Anything related to mindset is important

By Leo Babauta

As I’ve been diving into my Fearless Mastery mastermind program, with some of the most amazing people, I’ve been introducing some key ideas for training ourselves …

These are ideas I’ve been developing in my Sea Change and Fearless Training programs, as I’ve trained thousands of people to shift their habits as well as the patterns that get in the way of our meaningful work.

Here’s the problem when we try to train ourselves to change:

  1. We set out to do something regularly — exercise, meditate, write, create something, etc.
  2. We fail at it.
  3. Then we fall apart. We might beat ourselves up, get discouraged, and give up.

This is a fragile, non-resilient approach. Maybe we try this half a dozen times, and eventually we think something is wrong with us.

There’s nothing wrong with us. The problem is with the fragile approach of falling apart when we fail.

Instead, I’ve been training people with the idea of anti-fragility built into our training system.

Anti-Fragility, in Short

The idea of anti-fragility comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Black Swan: the basic idea is that many human-made systems are fragile. Something comes to stress the system, and it falls apart. Some systems are robust or resilient, which is much better than fragile.

But even better is the idea of being anti-fragile: stress makes the system stronger.

Human systems are anti-fragile — when we exercise, we’re stressing the system, and after we recover, we’re stronger and better able to handle that stress. Bones get denser with impact. Lots of natural systems have anti-fragile mechanisms built in.

We can make human-made systems more anti-fragile by designing ways that stress will make the system better able to handle stress. Failure helps the system get stronger.

Let’s look at how to apply this idea into our training — any kind of learning, habit formation, physical or mental training, anything where we’re trying to improve something.

Key ideas for Anti-Fragility

Before we get into specifics for training systems, let’s look at some key ideas I’ve found to be useful:

  1. Expect stress, failures, crashes.
  2. Design the training system to not only be resilient, but to get stronger with stresses & failure.
  3. Start by removing fragility from the system. Examples: smoking, debt, having too many possessions, or being super hurt or pissed when you get criticism or failure.
  4. Take small risks often. Small experiments designed to help us learn from failure. Example: every day, I try to get better at doing hard work, with each day being a mini-experiment. I fail often, which means I learn often.
  5. Embrace uncertainty, risk, failure, discomfort. These become things to help you grow, rather than things to be avoided or complain about, or things that cause you to collapse entirely. Embrace variability, noise, tension.
  6. The attitude is to always learn & get better from failure. Don’t bemoan it, embrace it and learn, improve, grow stronger. Love error. When your system gets stressed, how will it respond to get stronger?
  7. Intentionally inject stress into your life – do sprints, lift heavy weights, fast, take cold showers, take on challenges, experiments and adventures.

Now let’s apply this to our training systems.

Anti-Fragile Training Systems

Some ideas to use in training:

  1. Do small experiments, designed to learn from failure. Small is good. Big and bulky leads to failure when big stressors happen. Instead, small means you’re lean, easily adaptable, mobile, can shift easily. For training, this will mainly apply to how we practice — we can intentionally do small experiments, small training sessions, instead of massive projects or very long sessions. Small experiments, such as training in unprocrastination by doing daily training experiments. Learn from each day’s experiment, and get better and better with time.
  2. Adopt the attitude of embracing uncertainty, risk, failure, discomfort. Instead of being afraid of these and avoiding them, let ourselves push into them and get better and better at dealing with them each time we practice. In this way, every failure, every moment of uncertainty or discomfort … becomes a wonderful opportunity to practice and get better, something to celebrate!
  3. Do weekly reviews — use them to learn, adjust & continually improve. Each daily experiment should be logged — how did you do that day, what went well, what got in the way, what can you learn & adjust going forward. Then take a little time to review each week, and use the data to learn and adjust. This is the kind of structure we need to use the stress in our lives to grow.
  4. Use accountability & support. Report every day or every week to people, so that they can support you, hold your feet to the fire, help you see your patterns that are getting in the way. Reporting to other people helps us to learn from our mistakes and failures. Having a group support you also gives you a net that you can fall back on when you fall, so that you don’t have to completely collapse.
  5. Build in redundancy. If you have a single point of failure, it’s easy to collapse when things go wrong. For training, I recommend having multiple ways to be held accountable, multiple reminders and checkins/reviews. These might seem a little tedious until we realize they are making us more likely to stick to our training.
  6. Reduce things that make you more fragile. Smoking makes you more fragile, as does unhealthy eating. What makes our training more fragile? Complaining, resentment, and similar negative thinking habits. While we might not be able to avoid these completely, we’re going to try to reduce them, to improve our overall resilience and antifragility.
  7. Intentionally inject stress into your life. We don’t want to only put ourselves in comfort, because it trains us to be fragile. But too much stress & pain can cause us to be destroyed (burnout, depression, etc.). So we want to give ourselves just enough stress that we can handle and grow from it. Regularly. So training is to put ourselves into uncertainty & discomfort regularly, when we have the capacity to handle it, and then let it help us grow. Stress, recover, grow.
  8. Be kind to yourself — but overcome your tendencies. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. It only makes you more fragile. It is tremendously helpful to learn to be compassionate with yourself. That said, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. So it helps to bind yourself, when you’re in your best frame of mind, in a commitment contract. Tell people, “If I don’t meditate every day this week, I owe you $100.” Or something like that; it doesn’t have to be money. Don’t let yourself make the training or challenge easier for anything in the coming week — you can only change your training for days that are further than a week.
  9. See opportunities in everything. It’s an anti-fragile idea to take advantage of opportunities. When good opportunities arise, be able to take advantage of them. For training, it’s good to learn to see opportunities to practice in everything, and then take advantage of those practice opportunities as much as we can.

Questions to Ask Ourselves

With those things built into the system, it’s good to ask ourselves questions such as:

  1. What are the things that are making me (or my business) fragile? Smoking, unhealthy foods, negative thinking, inability to receive feedback, too much debt, too many possessions, etc.
  2. What is mission-critical that would cause me to fail if it failed? How can I create redundancy there — have 2 of them? Can I create a Plan A, B and C?
  3. What kind of support network can I create (or do I have) that can help me recover quickly when a stressful event or failure happens?
  4. How can I optimize for the worst case instead of the best? Not try to be in comfort all the time?
  5. How can I see an opportunity in every difficulty?

I highly encourage you to build these ideas into whatever training and self-improvement efforts you’re taking on!

And I strongly encourage you to check out my Sea Change and Fearless Training programs, and of course the Fearless Mastery mastermind when it opens up again in 6 months.

such a great fanpage

Last week, I messed up. I disappointed people I care deeply about, and people who look up to me as a role model. I made the mistake of silencing the voices of the Black B-Schoolers in my FB group that needed to be heard during this time of deep pain following the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others.

Instead of creating a safe space for them to express their hurt and pain, I chose to temporarily close commenting without attempting to understand their point of view. 

I take full and complete responsibility for my mistake. I was 100% wrong. 

While we had guidelines in place about the type of posts and comments that are acceptable, our core values are rooted in kindness, compassion, and respect and I didn’t uphold those ideals. The fact is, Black people cannot separate their business from their race or any other aspect of their lives. Any business that has people of color as customers has a responsibility to acknowledge, respect, and embrace that. 

At the time, I had two glaring blindspots:

  1. Wanting to protect myself, while also having the privilege to pause thinking about race if I choose to do so.
  2. Not setting up my team to moderate online discussions on anti-racism. I hadn’t done that important work yet.

That’s white privilege. 

That’s unconscious bias on my part. 

Over the weekend, a number of Black women put time and energy into calling me in and educating me about these blind spots. To Rachel Rodgers, Trudi Lebron, and many more, I sincerely thank you. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but you began to open my eyes. And for that, I’m grateful.

I finally did what I should have done at the beginning: I shut up, surrendered, and let go of my defensiveness.

That’s when things began to crack open. 

Where I Stand

One lesson that’s emerging from this time is the importance of stating and restating my values. So let me be crystal clear where I’m at on these issues. 

  • I stand in full support of the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. 
  • The U.S. criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. It’s a racist system designed to protect white people and put Black people behind bars.
  • White privilege, white supremacy, and institutionalized racism must be dismantled now. As white people, it’s our job because we created this problem. Inequality exists because of us. We have to wake up, speak up, and get to work.
  • Economic, educational, housing, voting, and health inequalities that negatively impact marginalized communities, and specifically Black communities, must be made right. The playing field is not equal, and it never has been. Enough is enough.
  • I don’t care about losing followers or customers who want to blather on about “all lives matter” or pretend that they “don’t see color” or want to argue “reverse racism.” 

The Actions We’re Taking Now 

We will:

  1. Train our internal team to actively combat racism, with ongoing reinforcement training. This is a long-term initiative.
  2. Overhaul our management, leadership, and hiring practices to recognize bias and increase the number of Black people on our team.
  3. Prioritize the health and wellbeing of our team, especially our Black team members. That might mean resting, having conversations, supporting each other, being there for family — whatever they need.
  4. Actively remove people from our B-Schoolers Facebook community who participate in racist behavior and dialogue.
  5. Award at least 50% of our scholarships to B-School and The Copy Cure to businesses owned by BIPOC.
  6. Use our platform (MarieTV, The Marie Forleo Podcast, B-School, etc.) to feature, elevate, and promote more Black experts, authors, and creatives. 
  7. In B-School and future training programs, we’ll amplify Black-owned businesses and elevate their voices, visibility, and success.
  8. Make a $50,000 donation to Color of Change.

This is our action plan as of right now. I’m sure it will evolve as we learn, grow, and work closely with our community and team. 

We’re also having a lot of tough, but valuable conversations in the FB group. We’re connecting on a level that, frankly, we’ve never connected on before.

We’ve instituted office hours to facilitate constructive conversation. I’ve been in the comments connecting, listening, and learning. Last Friday, we had a very transformative experience on a Facebook Live. Over two hours, eight Black B-Schoolers spontaneously joined me to share their experiences and let me know how my actions impacted them. 

We’re sharing ideas and suggestions to make our community a safe place where everyone, but specifically Black people, can feel seen, heard, and understood. It’s a messy process doing this with over 30,000 people. There are a lot of disagreements. But we’re committed to growing forward together. 

We want that growth to be rooted in respect, love, and justice. 

They say that within any crisis lies great opportunity. I believe myself, the people of this country, and the world are embarking upon one of the greatest and most profound learning experiences and transformational shifts of all time. 

This Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. 

There’s no getting back to business as usual.

We can’t quickly “do the work” and claim victory. 

We can’t unpack deep-seated, unconscious racism and undo injustice and discrimination in a weekend. 

This is not about attending an inclusivity webinar. Or watching a particular movie. Or reading a single book. 

There is no list of “The Top 5 Anti-Racist Actions” to add to your morning routine. 

Don’t look for a set of boxes to tick off and declare, “Well, we did that! Let’s move on!”

Change won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. It’s already happening. We need to come together and build long-lasting solutions that get at the root of these problems. This is an important journey that we’re going to take together. 

I also want to make something super clear: I’m 100% committed to use my voice and platform in this fight for justice and equality. Not for a day. Not for a week. But as a fundamental aspect of who I am and how I show up in the world.

My focus right now is on my B-School community and my team. 

This is where I caused the most hurt and this is where I must focus my efforts. Please know that work is being done in the background (it never seems to happen fast enough at times like this) that you will see rolled out over the weeks and months ahead. 

This is an awakening. This is an opportunity to take what I’ve built for 20 years and use it to do more good in the world than perhaps I’d ever imagined. 

Now, there’s one more important thing I need to say. 

Dear White People, Do Not Defend Me 

Anti-Blackness is so utterly pervasive, most of us can’t see that it exists — especially in ourselves. When we’re willing to see it, it’s uncomfortable. It’s disorienting. It can unleash a torrent of emotions like shame, denial, grief, regret, anguish, anger, guilt, and profound sadness. But being uncomfortable and sitting with that discomfort is required for real growth and lasting change. 

Spend your energy actively listening to Black people and other people of color right now. Listen to their stories. 

I invite you to learn alongside me. To begin the education process of becoming an anti-racist in every sphere and scope of your life. Then, you must commit to action. 

Bold, risky, imperfect, unrelenting action.

To everyone reading this right now, whatever your race or ethnicity…

With my whole heart, let’s find ways to create a fair, just, and equitable world together. 

There is no going back, there is only forward.

P.S. My focus right now is on my B-Schoolers Facebook group and Team. We’ve begun the healing process, and it’s a long road ahead. There’s a lot of important work to be done (like staying in conversation with my B-Schoolers, activating all the action plans I mentioned, educating myself and my team, etc.). In full transparency, I may not be able to respond to all comments, but I assure you that I’m actively reading, listening, and absorbing. 

With enormous love and respect,

The post White Privilege, My Blind Spots & Hope For A Better Future appeared first on .

Thanks for the post big method fan here

Last week, I messed up. I disappointed people I care deeply about, and people who look up to me as a role model. I made the mistake of silencing the voices of the Black B-Schoolers in my FB group that needed to be heard during this time of deep pain following the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and countless others.

Instead of creating a safe space for them to express their hurt and pain, I chose to temporarily close commenting without attempting to understand their point of view. 

I take full and complete responsibility for my mistake. I was 100% wrong. 

While we had guidelines in place about the type of posts and comments that are acceptable, our core values are rooted in kindness, compassion, and respect and I didn’t uphold those ideals. The fact is, Black people cannot separate their business from their race or any other aspect of their lives. Any business that has people of color as customers has a responsibility to acknowledge, respect, and embrace that. 

At the time, I had two glaring blindspots:

  1. Wanting to protect myself, while also having the privilege to pause thinking about race if I choose to do so.
  2. Not setting up my team to moderate online discussions on anti-racism. I hadn’t done that important work yet.

That’s white privilege. 

That’s unconscious bias on my part. 

Over the weekend, a number of Black women put time and energy into calling me in and educating me about these blind spots. To Rachel Rodgers, Trudi Lebron, and many more, I sincerely thank you. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but you began to open my eyes. And for that, I’m grateful.

I finally did what I should have done at the beginning: I shut up, surrendered, and let go of my defensiveness.

That’s when things began to crack open. 

Where I Stand

One lesson that’s emerging from this time is the importance of stating and restating my values. So let me be crystal clear where I’m at on these issues. 

  • I stand in full support of the Black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. 
  • The U.S. criminal justice system needs a complete overhaul. It’s a racist system designed to protect white people and put Black people behind bars.
  • White privilege, white supremacy, and institutionalized racism must be dismantled now. As white people, it’s our job because we created this problem. Inequality exists because of us. We have to wake up, speak up, and get to work.
  • Economic, educational, housing, voting, and health inequalities that negatively impact marginalized communities, and specifically Black communities, must be made right. The playing field is not equal, and it never has been. Enough is enough.
  • I don’t care about losing followers or customers who want to blather on about “all lives matter” or pretend that they “don’t see color” or want to argue “reverse racism.” 

The Actions We’re Taking Now 

We will:

  1. Train our internal team to actively combat racism, with ongoing reinforcement training. This is a long-term initiative.
  2. Overhaul our management, leadership, and hiring practices to recognize bias and increase the number of Black people on our team.
  3. Prioritize the health and wellbeing of our team, especially our Black team members. That might mean resting, having conversations, supporting each other, being there for family — whatever they need.
  4. Actively remove people from our B-Schoolers Facebook community who participate in racist behavior and dialogue.
  5. Award at least 50% of our scholarships to B-School and The Copy Cure to businesses owned by BIPOC.
  6. Use our platform (MarieTV, The Marie Forleo Podcast, B-School, etc.) to feature, elevate, and promote more Black experts, authors, and creatives. 
  7. In B-School and future training programs, we’ll amplify Black-owned businesses and elevate their voices, visibility, and success.
  8. Make a $50,000 donation to Color of Change.

This is our action plan as of right now. I’m sure it will evolve as we learn, grow, and work closely with our community and team. 

We’re also having a lot of tough, but valuable conversations in the FB group. We’re connecting on a level that, frankly, we’ve never connected on before.

We’ve instituted office hours to facilitate constructive conversation. I’ve been in the comments connecting, listening, and learning. Last Friday, we had a very transformative experience on a Facebook Live. Over two hours, eight Black B-Schoolers spontaneously joined me to share their experiences and let me know how my actions impacted them. 

We’re sharing ideas and suggestions to make our community a safe place where everyone, but specifically Black people, can feel seen, heard, and understood. It’s a messy process doing this with over 30,000 people. There are a lot of disagreements. But we’re committed to growing forward together. 

We want that growth to be rooted in respect, love, and justice. 

They say that within any crisis lies great opportunity. I believe myself, the people of this country, and the world are embarking upon one of the greatest and most profound learning experiences and transformational shifts of all time. 

This Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. 

There’s no getting back to business as usual.

We can’t quickly “do the work” and claim victory. 

We can’t unpack deep-seated, unconscious racism and undo injustice and discrimination in a weekend. 

This is not about attending an inclusivity webinar. Or watching a particular movie. Or reading a single book. 

There is no list of “The Top 5 Anti-Racist Actions” to add to your morning routine. 

Don’t look for a set of boxes to tick off and declare, “Well, we did that! Let’s move on!”

Change won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. It’s already happening. We need to come together and build long-lasting solutions that get at the root of these problems. This is an important journey that we’re going to take together. 

I also want to make something super clear: I’m 100% committed to use my voice and platform in this fight for justice and equality. Not for a day. Not for a week. But as a fundamental aspect of who I am and how I show up in the world.

My focus right now is on my B-School community and my team. 

This is where I caused the most hurt and this is where I must focus my efforts. Please know that work is being done in the background (it never seems to happen fast enough at times like this) that you will see rolled out over the weeks and months ahead. 

This is an awakening. This is an opportunity to take what I’ve built for 20 years and use it to do more good in the world than perhaps I’d ever imagined. 

Now, there’s one more important thing I need to say. 

Dear White People, Do Not Defend Me 

Anti-Blackness is so utterly pervasive, most of us can’t see that it exists — especially in ourselves. When we’re willing to see it, it’s uncomfortable. It’s disorienting. It can unleash a torrent of emotions like shame, denial, grief, regret, anguish, anger, guilt, and profound sadness. But being uncomfortable and sitting with that discomfort is required for real growth and lasting change. 

Spend your energy actively listening to Black people and other people of color right now. Listen to their stories. 

I invite you to learn alongside me. To begin the education process of becoming an anti-racist in every sphere and scope of your life. Then, you must commit to action. 

Bold, risky, imperfect, unrelenting action.

To everyone reading this right now, whatever your race or ethnicity…

With my whole heart, let’s find ways to create a fair, just, and equitable world together. 

There is no going back, there is only forward.

P.S. My focus right now is on my B-Schoolers Facebook group and Team. We’ve begun the healing process, and it’s a long road ahead. There’s a lot of important work to be done (like staying in conversation with my B-Schoolers, activating all the action plans I mentioned, educating myself and my team, etc.). In full transparency, I may not be able to respond to all comments, but I assure you that I’m actively reading, listening, and absorbing. 

With enormous love and respect,

The post White Privilege, My Blind Spots & Hope For A Better Future appeared first on .

Anything related to self-improvement is so important

Updated: June 2020

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re scared by the idea of catching some sort of STD. Or at least you have been in the past. That night you got drunk and didn’t have a condom but went for it anyway. Or maybe you hooked up with someone who had a reputation for sleeping with every third person in the phone book.

Perhaps you freaked out and rushed to get tested the next morning. Maybe you started Googling around frantically to convince yourself that you’re OK, only to find horrifying images and statistics about how people lost internal organs, limbs and never, ever had sex again because they were so hideously deformed by some pesky infection… Your mind begins racing, your liver DOES hurt, you think to yourself. It must be an early onset of AIDS. Obviously…

HIV virusThe unfortunate thing about STD “education” is that it focuses on very specific information: symptoms, treatments, and every worst-case scenario. The real-world experiences and probabilities are absent. Down-to-earth guidance on how this information should affect your behavior is usually glossed over — telling you to abstain from having sex (yeah right) and to use a condom (even though it doesn’t prevent everything).

As a result, people start getting paranoid and some serious social stigmas develop.

What’s never discussed is the actual prevalence of STDs, the realistic chance of catching these STDs, or what the experience of catching them would be like.

Get the Facts: Know Your Chances

I still remember the night a girl I was dating told me that she had HPV. I felt like I was going to vomit. I immediately imagined that my penis had morphed into a giant tumor, shooting pellets of cancer into girls’ cervices. Or the time one of my best friends told me over the phone that he had what appeared to be a herpes breakout. I nearly cried for the guy. Holy shit. What was he going to do? No woman would ever date him again.

But as I learned more, got tested more, spoke to more doctors and did more research, I realized that the truth about STDs is more complicated than previously assumed and that getting many of them would be a far more benign experience than I ever imagined. For instance, there are over 100 strains of HPV, and only four of them lead to most cervical cancers in women, and that’s assuming it’s left untreated for years or decades, and THAT is assuming she hasn’t already been vaccinated, and then even if she does get cervical cancer it’s very unlikely to be fatal. So what I assumed was my cancer-laden pee-shooter in my pants actually had something like a 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/2 x 1/100 chance of actually killing a girl.

The more I’ve learned about STDs, the more I’ve encouraged people to relax a little bit about them. I know that sounds crazy, but seriously, relax. Use a condom. Get tested by your healthcare provider periodically. Stay away from the people with crack habits. Do that, and you’re going to be fine. Seriously.

For instance, about 1 in 1800 people are diagnosed with syphilis in the United States each year.1 By contrast, you have a 1 in 84 chance of dying in a car accident in your lifetime, just to give you some perspective. And the difference is syphilis can be cured with a little penicillin. Car accidents are another story.

The reason most STD information is absolutely terrifying is because 1) terrifying information sells in the media and 2) religious nuts don’t want anybody to have fun.

We do a dismal job of sex education in our culture. And one product of ignorance is fear.

STD Risk Factors and other facts

What I aim to do with this article is to break down the most common STDs in the most realistic way possible. Statistics, symptoms, and treatments are listed. Sources are included. But I’m also going to list a couple of other things that you won’t find anywhere else: 1) what the experience of actually contracting that STD would be like; and 2) how likely you are to catch each STD if you had rampant unprotected sex.

In fact, I’ve put together a statistic of my own for each STD, the RAW Score. The RAW Score is a rough estimation of the average number of single Americans you would have to have unprotected vaginal sex with to contract that particular STD.

For curable STDs, I divided the number of single individuals in the US (approximately 110 million2) by the estimated number of cases per year (which is higher than the reported number, obviously).

For incurable STDs, I use the number of the American population (about 328 million as of 2019) and divide by the number of Americans with that STD. I realize this method is ridiculous and flawed, but the numbers are so stark that it gets the point across nicely: you’re not likely to catch anything serious anytime soon.

And finally, I will say this again and again: use fucking protection. Don’t be an idiot. Use protection, get tested regularly. And one more time, in case some people can’t read: USE PROTECTION, GET TESTED REGULARLY

Chlamydia

Living With It: Uncomfortable…then you take some pills and it’s gone.
Curable: Yes (2-4 Weeks)
US Prevalence (new cases annually): 2.86 million 3
RAW Score: 38 Partners
Condom Protects: Yes

Chlamydia is a relatively minor bacterial infection, mostly transferred through intercourse. In men, it’s uncomfortable and generally harmless. In women, there’s a chance that if untreated, it can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to complications with pregnancies or even infertility.

Symptoms include burning pee and, dudes, your balls might ache. While 25% of men don’t experience symptoms, a full 70% of women do not experience any symptoms, which actually makes it more dangerous for women (most doctors recommend women screen for chlamydia at least once a year).4

Gonorrhea

Living With It: Painful. Hope for no pus. Then you take some pills and it’s gone.
Curable: Yes (within a month)
US Prevalence (new cases annually): 1.14 million 5
RAW Score: 96 Partners
Condom Protects: Yes

Gonorrhea is Chlamydia’s big brother. In fact, the two often occur together. The difference is that gonorrhea can be transferred via any orifice: penis, vagina, anus, mouth. It often takes a few weeks for symptoms to show up, and it’s even more unpleasant to deal with.6

The symptoms for gonorrhea include painful urination, aching balls for guys, swollen urethra, sore throat, and pus coming out of your genitals. Yes, that was pus coming out of your genitals.

As for treatment, there’s good and bad news. The good news is that since gonorrhea is a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics.

The bad news is that there’s been a rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea in the past few years. There are only two antibiotics left that can treat it (you have to take them both now, actually), and while the resistant strains are still fairly uncommon, health officials are concerned that it could become an issue in the not-so-distant future.

Be careful.

Syphilis

Living With It: Itchy. Then 15 years later you go insane and kill yourself… (no, seriously.)
Curable: Yes
US Prevalence (new cases annually): 115,000 7
RAW Score: 956 partners (no, that’s not a typo)
Condom Protects: No

The famous philosopher Nietzsche was a bit of a lush and had a fondness for prostitutes. Somewhere along the way, he contracted syphilis and his body began to wither from the inside out. Throughout this torturous process, he famously proclaimed “God is dead” and slowly slipped into dementia and died.

Syphilis was the 19th century’s version of the AIDS epidemic. It was famously cured by Alexander Fleming in 1928 and even though it hasn’t been much of an issue since, it is back on the rise, especially among gay men. 8

Nietzsche syphilis, and the chances of getting an std
When not busy philosophizing, declaring God dead or playing with swords, Nietzsche enjoyed having syphilis.

Syphilis plays itself out in stages. The first stage is you develop a sore or sores (usually just one, but not always). This happens a few weeks after contracting the infection and the sore is generally painless. From there, after a few months, you break out into rashes. These rashes go on for weeks or months and eventually subside. From there, you have no symptoms. Then 15-20 years later your internal organs start bleeding, you lose control of your motor functions, and you start losing your mind.

So the moral of the story? Get tested sometime in the next 15 years…ya know, whenever you get a chance.

HPV (High-Risk and Low-Risk Strains)

Living With It: Anything from a temporary nuisance and some awkward conversations to hopefully just one (painful) operation for women.
Curable: No, but it typically leaves on its own after a few years. There is also a vaccine for women and men now9 (get it!).
US Prevalence: Nearly 80 million people in the US infected right now, with 14 million new infections each year. 10
RAW Score: 4 Partners
Condom Protects: Not entirely. HPV spreads by skin-to-skin contact and can also be on skin not covered by the condom.

HPV is where things begin to get interesting. HPV was the STD freak out in the media a few years back. If all you’ve heard is the few tidbits that get passed around, it sounds horrifying: You can get HPV from vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex and most sexually active men and women will get it at some point in their lives. It causes cancer, condoms don’t completely protect against it, and warts are going to cover your face and you’re going to suffocate to death.

This is all true. OK, the warts on the face and suffocation part isn’t, but the rest is. But what’s more important is the information you DON’T hear. And here it is: there are over 100 strains of HPV and over 40 of them can be transmitted sexually.11 The virus is so common that nearly all sexually active people get infected at some point in their lives. Only some of those strains can cause symptoms: high-risk strains can cause cancer and low-risk strains can cause warts. However, most people never develop any symptoms, even if they do come in contact with the virus. If you do develop symptoms, there is a 91% chance that your body’s immune system will clear the symptoms within 2 years.12

The low-risk strains of the HPV-virus cause genital warts. These strains are called low-risk because they only cause warts and do not cause cancer. Warts sound terrible, but they’re relatively harmless and usually small and painless. There are several treatments available to get rid of them, from laser surgery to applying a cream for a few months.

The high-risk strains can lead to cervical cancer in women, as well as some other types of cancer like throat and anal cancer. Actually, HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. But here, again, it’s important to know that even most high-risk HPV infections occur without any symptoms, go away within 1 to 2 years, and do not cause cancer. It’s only when high-risk HPV infections persist for many years that they can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, can progress to cancer.

The good news is that women are getting checked more and more for lesions and/or abnormal cells on their cervix these days. A Pap test or Pap smear is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65.13

For women who do get lesions, they can have a procedure that prevents them from getting cervical cancer, but it’s pretty painful and follow-ups with your doctor are necessary. That said, you shouldn’t freak out too much about it as it can at least be managed if not completely “cured.”

Your immune system is important in dealing with the virus and preventing recurrences, so it pays to take care of your health if you find out you have HPV. Drink less alcohol 14, stop smoking15, eat healthily, and take some supplements.16

Also, the HPV vaccine is being given to just about every girl under 26, and again, men can get it now too. The vaccine called Gardasil protects against two high-risk strains of HPV that together cause 70% of cases of cervical cancer. It also protects against two low-risk strains of the virus that together cause 90% of genital warts. The newer Gardasil-9 vaccine protects against even more strains of the virus.

So if you’re sexually active, chances are you’ve already got at least one strain of HPV. But again, most of the time this won’t cause any symptoms, and even if you do get symptoms, your immune system usually deals with it within 1-2 years.

Women should get regular screening for HPV once they reach a certain age. Unfortunately, there is no HPV screening for men. Men can only be diagnosed with HPV when they have visible warts. And that sucks, ruins your week, causes a lot of awkward conversations… but you move on and everything ends up being fine.

Genital Herpes

Living With It: There’s a good chance you already have it.
Curable: No, but who cares?
US Prevalence: 24.1 million 17
RAW Score: 13 Partners
Condoms Protect: No

So I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that a shit-ton of people have herpes (including probably myself). The good news is that the vast majority of people never show symptoms and don’t have the viral load required for it to show up in their blood levels.

I have to admit, herpes was the big one I was terrified of getting (the reason I’m not worried about HIV is below). Then I started researching it for this article and realized I probably already have it. And chances are you have it too!

See, there are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 usually causes breakouts around the mouth — we just call them cold sores or fever blisters. Over 80% of the population has HSV-1, although at any given time almost none of us have a breakout. HSV-2 causes breakouts around the genitals.18 The majority of people never get breakouts or get such minor breakouts that they don’t even realize that it’s herpes. My friend who has had a breakout said that he originally thought his was just a bug bite. It wasn’t until a second one showed up that he decided to get it checked out. It’s been over three years and he hasn’t had another breakout since. He’s also in a monogamous relationship and his girlfriend has never had a breakout.

Herpes never goes away, but it’s relatively harmless. In fact, even if you do get breakouts, most people stop getting them after a couple of years. And if you’re one of the unlucky few who actually does get bad breakouts, you can take medication to suppress them. So there. Not worried about herpes anymore… After all, I probably already have it, and so do many of you.

HIV

Living With It: Expensive and stressful, but assuming you’re not African, you’ll live.
Curable: No
US Prevalence: 1.1 million 19
RAW Score: 1,250 Partners (significantly fewer partners if engaging in anal sex)
Condoms Protect: Yes

HIV is no longer the death warrant it once was. Don’t get me wrong, contracting it would be awful and surely life-altering. But you would live. I just hope you have good health insurance. Life expectancy for young people living in Europe and North America is only slightly lower than the general population provided you start treatment immediately after a positive HIV diagnosis.

That said, there some demographics are far more likely to contract HIV than others: 64% of all HIV cases in Western Europe and North America come from gay men or drug addicts who use dirty needles. When it comes to vaginal sex, both men and women can contract HIV from an infected partner. Anal sex—whether its hetero- or homosexual—seems to be the big culprit here.

Also, I hate to say it, but HIV positive cases are predominantly lower-income classes. African-Americans account disproportionately for 42% of all HIV cases in the US.

But HIV infections have been declining to some degree in Europe and North America (more so in Europe).20 And in 2013, there were some very early accounts of people possibly being cured of the disease, and in 2020, stem cell therapy looks very promising.

The symptoms of HIV are flu-like symptoms a couple of weeks after contracting it. From there, your immune system slowly shuts down over a period of years. There are a lot of therapies and treatments available and most people who contract it can live functional, mostly normal lives, assuming they get the proper medical care. So the news on the HIV front over the past few decades has actually been mostly good.21

But still, use a damn condom.

Pregnancy

Living With It: Completely and irreversibly life-changing
Curable: Uhh… err…
US Prevalence: Your mom had it at least once
RAW Score: 100 sexual encounters
Condom: 85% effective

Over the years I’ve had dozens of people ask me about STDs, many of them looking for information, but many of them simply looking for reassurance that they were not going to shrivel up and die. I always tell them that 1) they’re going to be fine, and 2) they should be far more worried about babies. Notice the 1 in 100 sexual encounters. That’s not 100 partners, that’s 100 occurrences of unprotected intercourse. That’s MUCH more likely than many of the STDs listed here.

I can tell you, in all of my years working as a dating coach, with all of my sexual partners, with all of the crazy hedonistic people I partied with, I’ve only known one person who had a herpes breakout, a few people with HPV, and one person who had Chlamydia. I’ve never met or even heard of anyone with HIV. I’ve never met or heard of anyone with cervical cancer. I’ve never met or heard of anyone who contracted gonorrhea or syphilis. But I can think of probably a dozen people who have dealt with an unwanted pregnancy or had a major pregnancy scare.

Do not fuck around with this.

The chances of getting an std - woman with pregnancy test

As a woman, welcome to the growing population of single mothers. Everything is about to change. If you’re lucky, the guy will stick around and help. But if he doesn’t, good luck. Not only do single mothers juggle some of the hardest responsibilities in society, but children of single mothers often grow up to have behavioral and academic problems.

If you’re a man and you don’t want to be a deadbeat and run off, then you’re not in for an easy time by any means either. Prepare to cough up half of your paycheck for the next 18 years, even if she marries someone else, even if she becomes financially self-sufficient and you’re broke. You have to pay. The paternity laws in many states are still heavily balanced in favor of mothers and so visitation rights, not to mention custody rights, can be hell to go through. If for some reason you and the mother don’t exactly get along, prepare to hire a good lawyer.

And even if a woman decides to not keep it, welcome to the most gut-wrenching experience of your life. I’m lucky in that I’ve never had to deal with a legitimate pregnancy, but I know people who have — staunch, hardcore, liberal, don’t-give-a-fuck party-goers — and shit gets real fast. It’s easy to walk around and say, “I would do this or that,” but when it comes time to walk the walk, many people can’t stomach it. Or even if they can, they live with the guilt for the rest of their lives.

So if you don’t want to be a mommy or daddy, get contraception. If you don’t know or trust someone, use protection. If you’re sexually active, get tested regularly. Have open conversations with your sexual partners about this stuff: “Have you been tested? Are you on birth control?” Yes, it’s awkward. But yes, it’s always worth it.

Stay smart and stay safe.

(Cover image: “Condoms” by Shawn Latta is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Footnotes

  1. CDC – Primary and Secondary Syphilis — United States, 2005–2013
  2. Census Bureau. Unmarried and Single Americans Week: Sept. 17-23, 2017.
  3. CDC – Chlamydia Statistics
  4. Chlamydia trachomatis Infection: Screening and Management.
  5. CDC – Gonorrhea Statistics.
  6. Screening for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia: Systematic Review to Update the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations – National Library of Medicine – PubMed Health.
  7. CDC – Syphilis Statistics.
  8. CDC – STD Data and Statistics.
  9. CDC – STD Facts – HPV and Men
  10. CDC – HPV Questions and Answers |
  11. Cancer.gov HPV factsheet
  12. Many HPV infections may clear quickly without treatment
  13. CDC – What Should I Know About Screening?
  14. Torre, D. D. et al. HPV prevalence in a Mid-European oral squamous cell cancer population: a cohort study. Oral Diseases (2018). doi:10.1111/odi.12882
  15. Wiley, D. et al. Smoking Enhances Risk for New External Genital Warts in Men. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6, 1215–1234 (2009).
  16. E.g. Verhoeven, V. et al. Probiotics enhance the clearance of human papillomavirus-related cervical lesions. European Journal of Cancer Prevention 22, 46–51 (2013).
    Piyathilake, C. J. et al. Folate and Vitamin B12 May Play a Critical Role in Lowering the HPV 16 Methylation-Associated Risk of Developing Higher Grades of CIN. Cancer Prevention Research 7, 1128–1137 (2014).
  17. CDC – Genital Herpes Statistics.
  18. Genital Herpes: A Review. – PubMed – NCBI.
  19. CDC – HIV in the United States – Statistics Overview.
  20. European HIV & AIDS Statistics | AVERT
  21. Board, A. D. A. M. E. (2013, May 19). HIV/AIDS. National Institutes of Health.