All the shame around STDs makes it really hard for everyone to have healthy sex lives and clear lines of communication. The idea that an STD is dishonorable or “gross” is manufactured in people’s minds because of stigma and it’s totally unhelpful.
Toxic shame isn’t useful. Emotions are all necessary—happiness, joy, anger, and even regular shame have a purpose. Toxic shame is an emotion that’s only destructive. It was taught to people and isn’t actually helpful in making the situation better. Rather, it often just makes them want to lash out or hide. Unfortunately, too many people with STDs experience toxic shame on a regular basis, making the whole situation of misunderstanding worse.
Stigma contributes to shame. According to the Dictionary.com, stigma is “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.” It’s the idea that someone’s bad because of a certain aspect of them and this idea ripples out into society. Of course, since stigma exists around STDs, people with them are going to feel worse, and no one needs that.
A big root of stigma is lack of education. People think that STDs are gross or they have all these misconceptions about them and it’s all because of lack of education. Particularly, we can blame school systems for not teaching appropriate (or any) sex education. All of this missing education leads to producing both stigma and shame, leaving us all with worse sex lives.
Some people are terrified to disclose their STDs. As a result of all of this stigma and shame, people are super scared to let their partners know about their STD status. Some people even have sex without disclosing, which is immoral, though I can see how fear would get them to do that. If shame and stigma weren’t around making them feel like they’re a piece of crap, perhaps disclosure would be much easier.
Sometimes it prevents people from getting into relationships at all. Almost all people know that they need to disclose their STD status to every partner they have. It’s clear that it’s the moral thing to do. Sometimes as a result of there still being fear, though, people with STDs just avoid relationships altogether so they never have to deal with the awkward conversations. I dated a guy once who hadn’t been in many relationships in a decade because he feared that no one would want to be with him as a result of his STD. It was so sad.
More communication about STDs for all would lead to less weirdness. Fortunately, I’m very educated on STDs and I’m willing to learn more, so I was able to keep myself safe while also being compassionate to him. This isn’t always the case. Many times, people know little about something like HIV and they freak out even if someone says that their viral load is low. What would help all of this is more education. Everyone needs to learn more about all of the STDs as well as prevention and how to stay safe. More learning would take away so much of the weirdness factor that only stems from lack of education.
Having an STD doesn’t make someone gross. Shame and stigma definitely make it difficult for people to learn more about STDs, but this very lack of education results in all sorts of misconceptions. If someone doesn’t know much about an STD, sometimes there will be a “yuck” factor for them if their partner tells them they have something. This is really sad considering that once you learn more about STDs, they’re less of a big deal.
They’re so friggin common. While people are all freaking out and being judgemental about STDs, it’s possible that they have one or they definitely have a loved one who did. Did you know that according to the American Health Association, “One in two sexually active persons will contract an STD by age 25?” That’s 50% of us—holy crap! See? They’re very common. No reason to freak out.
Shame leads to silence. Because of all these misconceptions, people are sometimes silent. They aren’t having many casual conversations without judgment about STDs. Unfortunately, the shame that’s caused by stigma and these misconceptions is leading to silence, which can be deadly when it comes to STDs.
The spread would lessen if we all just talked more. It’s better to ask awkward questions and have difficult conversations than to not talk at all. While people are all quiet about it, they really need to be talking about their status and education around STDs. As much as having an STD doesn’t make someone bad or dirty, it doesn’t mean we want them spreading around. Having conversations will help with prevention and will promote love and understanding, which is what we could all use.
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