There’s a powerful stigma surrounding sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STIs) and those who have them. They’re seen as dirty, “slutty”, and irresponsible; it doesn’t matter how they got the STI or even if they were born with it. It’s almost as if people think you can only get one if you have sex with ten different people in a row. Sex is a completely natural thing and, according to the American Sexual Health Association, 1 in 4 teens will contract an STI. It’s an extremely common occurrence, yet there’s still such a large taboo surrounding the subject.
Before I go any further, I want to say: GET TESTED. Even if you’re a virgin. Even if you’ve been with the same person for a while. Even if you haven’t had sex in a while. Even if you and your partner were tested recently. It’s important to stay up to date with every part of your health, including sexual. There are many ways to contract an STI and you could have one without even knowing. Be safe.
Now, continuing with the point of this article: STIs are a big deal, but no more so than any other disease or infection. The taboo mostly stems from the idea that people are instantly unsafe to have sex with. However, that’s simply not true. It’s not hard to recover or be cured of an STI, especially if you get tested regularly. Discovering an STI early is very important and can make your life a lot easier. After discovering it, it’s all about getting the proper attention and treatment to make everything better.
So why are people still so scared of and embarrassed about them? Mostly because of society’s taboo on sex. But two other factors are just as important. First is misogyny: women are ridiculed and harassed for contracting an STI way more than men are. This is a symptom of the sex double standard for men and women; if a woman has an STI, then that must mean she’s a hoe. Except, as we’ve already been over, that’s not how it works. At all. Which leads to the other factor: lack of education. Sexual education in America is generally pretty damn awful. I’m lucky to have had robust and educational health courses throughout high school, but that’s quite the privilege. What I got was unfortunately unique and not the norm, even though every person should have access to education relevant to their lives. If the budget doesn’t allow for it, throw out chemistry and calculus and help people actually prepare for the future.
There are many options to end the stigma surrounding STIs, but the base layer is education. Educate people on the reality of how they’re transmitted. Educate people on how often they should be tested. Educate people on sexism and double standards. We, as a society, are being lazy and allowing ignorance to be passed on throughout generations. The solution is simple, and right in front of us. All we have to do is throw in a little effort to get it done.