Why It’s Time to End the STI Stigma

In the United States, we raise money, participate in 5k races and watch talk show specials to raise awareness about common medical conditions. We even dumped cold water over our heads, recorded it and put it online. But sexual transmitted infections (STIs) are rarely discussed and when they are brought up, it is usually as the butt of a joke. This harmful discourse creates a culture where people infected with STIs feel shame and embarrassment.

It’s time to treat STIs as we would other medical conditions- after all, STIs are incredibly common. Every year in the United States, there are approximately 20 million new cases of STIs, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Additionally, one in two Americans will have contracted an STI by the time they reach 25.

Despite how wide-scale the issue is, STIs are still treated as taboo and victims as blameworthy. Our current view of STIs is likely shaped by the fact that STIs are transmitted through sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. Sex is a normal activity that many adults choose to partake in, yet sex is considered scandalous or dirty by many. STIs are even more stigmatized because of the perception that the victim did something wrong to become infected in the first place. While there are measures people can take to avoid infection, people may still get infected through physical contact.

The lack of awareness surrounding STIs may exacerbate the issue further. Although teenagers and young adults represent half of the new cases of STIs, parents and schools might refuse to discuss the issue, leaving young people without the knowledge and resources to properly combat STIs.

Group of students in a hallway

Courtesy of Getty Images

Others may feel such shame that they do not tell their sexual partners or medical professionals about it at all, even after they find out they have an STI. A study of teenagers found that over one-third of participants anticipated a negative reaction from health care professionals after they disclosed their sexual behaviors. People may also avoid being tested for STIs altogether. This can cause them to inadvertently spread infections further.

STI testing is vitally important to reducing the spread of infections. STIs may not cause obvious symptoms, or any symptoms at all, so people may be living with an infection and not even know it. Left untreated, some STIs can cause negative health effects. Hepatitis can cause liver cancer, HIV can weaken the immune system putting the person at risk of death and gonorrhea can be passed from mother to baby during delivery putting the baby at risk of serious health problems.

People should feel empowered by regularly getting tested for STIs- they are being proactive and responsible about their health. You wouldn’t feel shameful for getting your blood pressure tested and you shouldn’t feel shameful for STI testing either.

We need to reframe the way we think and talk about STIs. Instead of thinking of STIs as a gimmick for TV shows and movies, we should think of them as medical conditions that deserve attention and treatment.

Getty Images

36 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad Ayesterday

Thank you.

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Hannah A
Hannah A4 days ago

Thank you

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Karen H
Karen H5 days ago

Our Puritanical culture, where "nice" people don't discuss s-e-x has to change. Sex is a natural biological function, and it comes with risks. A lot of men expect the woman to be on birth control so she won't get pregnant - but they refuse to wear a condom to prevent an STI. The GOP wants to take away Planned Parenthood (which means a lot of folks won't be tested for STIs) and limit "sex education" to teaching that abstinence is the only viable "birth control". Unless this mindset changes, we're doomed to have STI epidemics.

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Leanne K
Leanne K6 days ago

Men still refuse to wear condoms. Try educating them

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Leanne K
Leanne K6 days ago

Nobody asks for an Sti. No one happily agrees to have one either. It's still a no thanks from me. It shouldn't be stigmatised but Idont't need to know if you do or don't unless you are my partner. And then probably you will no longer be my partner. It might seem unfair but not to me it doesnt

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Irene S
Irene S6 days ago

People got careless again, since there is HIV treatment. Only thing that helps is education and protected sex.

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Thomas M
Thomas M7 days ago

thank you

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill8 days ago

Yes. I agree

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Danuta W
Danuta W8 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sandra V
Sandra Vito8 days ago

Thanks

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