Sexy Time: Let's Stop Stigmatizing STDs

It’s pretty much expected that if I even so much as hint at casual sex, I will receive comments informing me that STDs exist and are deadly, and insinuate that I am a completely irresponsible person who is basically asking you to contract a herpes/gonorrhea/syphillis hybrid disease thing that will ruin your life forever…that’s only a mild exaggeration. The possibility of contracting an STD is a legitimate concern, I would never deny that.  But there is a bit of an undercurrent of shaming that is present when responses to articles seeking to promote healthy mental attitudes towards sex choose to focus on the risk of STDs.  I’m sure we’re all aware of the shame and stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases and infections. I mean, you’d have no qualms sharing that you missed class the other day because you had a cold and wanted to get it checked out. But how comfortable would you be sharing that you skipped class the other day to pick up antibiotics for your chlamydia infection? Exactly.
There is a clear hierarchy of medical issues that basically breaks down to “things that anyone can get” and “things that only sexually active people can get.” The latter carries all sorts of connotations – dirtiness, promiscuity, and irresponsibility; ie: traits that our society generally finds embarrassing and contemptible. It makes dealing with the possibility of an STD even harder than a typical illness, especially since there’s this pervasive notion that if you got an STD, you weren’t being careful enough. You didn’t take enough precautios. You had dirty, shameful sex, and this is your punishment. So, of course, if all those ideas are floating about, you are going to want to distance yourself from STDs. Maybe you don’t get tested as often as you should because you consider yourself and your partners to be clean and respectable. Or maybe you don’t speak as openly about STDs and getting tested as you should with your partners because it is so uncomfortable. It is truly unfortunate that our society marginalizes STDs and makes them seem like something only “skanky” people are cursed with.
But let’s be real. The CDC estimates that 50 percent of Americans will contract HPV in their lifetime. Almost 20 percent of the US population between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes. There are millions of people treated for chlamydia every year. So are millions upon millions of men and women of all ages, races, sexual orientations, socio-economic classes and sexual habits bound together by skankiness? Doubtful. STDs are infections and viruses, just like colds and flus. We don’t instantly judge someone who walks around flushed and with a runny nose assuming that they’re sick because they clearly never wash their hands. So why do we assume the worst in regards to STDs? Sure, some people are lax about condom usage and/or have a constant rotation of sex partners, but they could just as easily be someone who is incredibly diligent about making sex as safe as possible, and has only had one or two partners.
Our cultural dialogue regarding sex needs some serious adjustment. It relies far too much on harmful assumptions that are stifling and counterproductive. We should be treating STDs like any other semi-preventable risks, with the understanding that while we can lower our risk of contracting them, they are a normal and natural risk in life. The excessive stigma attached to STDs is rooted in our society’s rigid attitudes toward sex, and our collective tendency to police other people’s behavior through social control. But if we remove some of the humiliation associated with possibly getting an STD, it’s more likely that the rate of STD infection will go down, as people would be more open to getting tested more often and communicating more about STDs with their sexual partners.  I fail to see any value in STD shaming.

Ask A Dude: Can We Keep The Friendship?
Ask A Dude: Can We Keep The Friendship?
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