One of my fave Instagram pages put up a lovely drawing of a women with the words “ I have an STI, and it’s okay” with the hashtag EndSTIstigma. I loved this because its true. Having an STI doesn’t make me less than, bad or dirty. It just means I am just one of the millions of people with herpes.
The reason why I decided to write about this particular post is that a women who I will not name, wrote that we need stigma to keep people safe from STIs. I disagree with her whole-heartedly.
This woman wrote, “The “stigma” is what keeps teens vigilant and protected. The stigma around STIs is no more or less than that which surrounds any other catchable infection. Without a little bit of fear… why bother with the condom eh, if I can just go get some meds to clear up whatever is caught.”
I have a couple things to say about this.
1. The stigma surrounding herpes is so much more harmful than having it. In fact the CDC has told doctors to not test for it in routine STI checks for just this reason. This tells me that the stigma is not more or less the same as say getting chickenpox or even chlamydia.
2. Stigma has never once kept someone safe from getting an STI, proper education does. Stigma causes shame and makes people decided to not get tested or to hide their status. Thus passing the buck along.
Most of all I want to share what stigma looked like to me when I found out I had HSV2. Below is my personal response to this woman.
“Stigma prevents people from getting tested and actually knowing how to protect themselves. I didn’t get herpes because I didn’t use a condom. In fact, I got it while using a condom because it is nothing more than a skin condition. Stigma isn’t what makes people be more careful, Stigma is what makes people hide because people like you do not understand what stigma is. Stigma is me contemplating suicide because I didn’t want to be the butt of every joke I heard on TV or the movies. Stigma is me feeling like no one would ever love me for something that has almost ZERO impact on my daily life. Stigma is not knowing that 1 in 2 people have oral herpes and 1 in 8 have genital herpes. Look are your friend group. You may love and care for someone who is suffering because of stigma. I am lucky that I was able to power through all that stigma and find that I am worthy of love and that when I hear those jokes. I can educate them.”
Keeping stigma alive and well should never be supported. Lets do our part to educate the people who suport stigma. Education is how we will #endSTIstigma.