If you’re diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you may feel many things — scared, ashamed, embarrassed, alone, etc. — and that's due to the strong
stigma surrounding STIs. However, there is no reason to feel any of those things. Bustle Trends Group recently surveyed 226 women ages 18 to 34, and one participant said the biggest stigma around women’s sexual health is, “That women are somehow less clean for having sex (which makes it harder for them to come forward in the early stages of STIs).” Another respondent said, “If you have or have had an STI, it means you sleep around a lot,” while yet another said, “That you won’t get an STI if you aren’t a ‘slut.’” So, this is where STI resources come into play and are so important: To help destigmatize having an STI and remind you that you are not alone with your thoughts and feelings.
“Nearly everything fun in life brings risks,”
August McLaughlin, a health and sexuality writer, media personality, and creator of the female sexual empowerment brand Girl Boner, tells Bustle. She says this can include anything from playing sports to driving a car to having sex. “Just as you should wear proper gear for contact sports and a seatbelt in cars, safer sex practices are important,” she says. “In addition, reducing stigma around STIs lowers the risk of acquiring or spreading the infections.”
When someone has less shame, she says, they take better care of themselves and their partners. “I believe shame causes at least as many complications as STIs do and, in some cases, more, since shame is associated with anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, and the list goes on,” McLaughlin says. Therefore, STI resources can certainly help someone with an STI.
Below, you’ll find some key STI resources when it comes to not only getting more educated about STIs, but also outlets where that’ll help you feel less alone in your diagnosis.
"Damaged Goods?: Women Living With Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases"
Adina Nack, Ph.D., is an expert when it comes to human papillomavirus (HPV). When she was 20 years old, she was diagnosed with a cervical HPV infection. “In the midst of my own ‘diagnostic shock,’ I wanted nothing more than to know that other women who received a similar diagnosis had gone on to receive good medical treatment,” she tells Bustle. She so wanted to help other women with HPV feel OK with it — particularly less stigmatized — that she wrote a book about it, . “There are individual and public health benefits from us talking openly about how you can go on to live a healthy and happy life after contracting a sexually transmitted infection, even one that is medically incurable, like HPV and herpes,” she says. Damaged Goods?: Women Living With Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Dr. Nack says shame is common among women who get diagnosed with HPV — or any STI for that matter. “Sadly, genital HPV and herpes infections tend to have damaged not only their health, but also their self-esteem and their relationships,” she says. “An infected person, sadly, has reason to fear that others who find out about their STI will view them negatively.” She says this may make them less likely to tell their current and future sexual partners about their STI status, which can lead to more infections.
Given the high rates of STIs, it’s not enough to just focus on education and prevention, she says. Dr. Nack’s book, however, is one resource for anyone coming to terms with an STI diagnosis, whether it’s HPV or something else. You’re not alone, and Dr. Nack’s book is a reminder of that. Laureen HD has a YouTube channel that’s dedicated to helping people cope with the herpes stigma. She tells Bustle that the lack of YouTube channels about STIs and what she was going through was one reason she started her channel. She said she wanted to find others with herpes and remind them that they’re not alone. “It’s crazy to me that there are so many beauty or fashion channels and barely any channels on living with an STI, especially since herpes affects at least two thirds of the global population under 50 years old,” she says.
Laureen HD also hopes that big brands
start acknowledging STIs more in order to help destigmatize them. “I see more and more big brands talking about issues their audience goes through, or at least cares about, such as mental health, body image, sexism, etc.,” she says. “I hope brands will someday embrace STI stigma as one of those cultural conversations that needs more attention — because again, statistically, most of us have been there in some capacity.” STDcheck.com, a resource for people who’d like to know their STI status, has a blog, EXPOSED, which is full of information and stories from people who have, yep, been exposed to an STI. “EXPOSED is important for society today, especially those who have been diagnosed with an STI, because its main objective is to normalize and destigmatize STIs,” Laurelei Litke, digital marketing content creator at STDcheck.com, tells Bustle. “A lot of verbiage around STIs is all about getting tested, but nobody ever really talks about the next step.”
She says the site helps answer the question: What do you do when you
are tested and you learn that you do have an STI? “People have a very specific idea of the type of person who contracts an STI — it’s easy to think of an STI as dirty or promiscuous, but EXPOSED works to break that stereotype,” she says. For instance, in the EXPOSED blog series, , it delves into real people’s lives and discusses what it’s like living with HIV. “The fact is, people living with an STI are just people, and the blog really helps to identify that,” Litke says. My HIV Story
DatingPositives, a social discovery platform for STI-positive (HIV, Herpes, Hepatitis, etc.) people, you can chat, find love, hook up, or seek advice from others experiencing the same things.
It aims to break the stigma against STIs by being a dating platform where people can feel safe, but also one that is fun and educational, such as through the site’s blog,
WAXOH. “DatingPositives is a place where people can choose to go if they don’t want to deal with the negativity that can sometimes be found on mainstream apps, or worry about being judged for something that actually affects most people, whether we want to admit it or not,” Josh Robbins, an HIV/STI activist and the spokesperson for DatingPositives, tells Bustle. He says that, according to a national survey the site conducted with 643 people, most who are STI-positive — 72 percent, according to their results — are looking for a site that caters to the fact that they are living with a chronic STI.
Robbins is now single for the first time since his HIV diagnosis in 2012 and using DatingPositives to document his experiences. He hopes that his approach to
talking about being HIV-positive helps others come to terms with their STI journeys, as well. “It’s important to talk about STIs, because the only way to reduce the stigma associated with them is through education and discussion,” Robbins tells Bustle. “I am someone that is still proud of myself, even with an HIV diagnosis. Nobody ever needs to feel shame.”
“Something Positive For Positive People” Podcast
Courtney Brame’s podcast,
Something Positive for Positive People (SPFPP), covers just that — episodes that are about different STIs, with titles such as “Support is Closer Than You Think: Disclosing to a Friend” and “Self-Acceptance.” After being diagnosed with herpes, Brame wanted to help others who are living with STIs, he tells Bustle. Plus, there are a wide array of guests who appear on the podcast, from a therapist doing a mock therapy session with Brame in the wake of an STI diagnosis to someone with herpes talking about how she navigates dating again, given her diagnosis, there seems to be something for everyone.
“It’s important for resources like the
Something Positive for Positive People podcast to exist because it meets people where they are with their diagnosis,” he tells Bustle. “Shame is associated heavily with an STI diagnosis, so it’s important for people who develop the courage to even seek out these resources to safely be able to find them without fear of judgment or shame about having an STI.”
But his show — as well as any STI resources out there — is also for people who don't have an STI. “These resources show you more than what you may perceive a person living with an STI to be,” Brame says. “For instance,
‘promiscuous’ is a common word. However, stories from people who had herpes as a young child, HIV at birth, discovered 18 years after a blood transfusion that they are now AIDS positive challenges the misconception that a positive person had a lot of sexual partners to have been exposed to their condition.”
As far as STIs and stigma, Brame thinks that education about them is essential. “The only thing we can do at this point is better prepare our youth for
the possibility of contracting an STI rather than scaring them out of participating in sexual acts altogether — and for everyone who is open about their STI status to really help each other be available to more people,” he says .
Jenelle Marie Pierce launched
TheSTDProject.com almost seven years ago. The website’s sub-heading is “Breaking the Stigma,” which the site aims to do through its educational articles, such as its interview series: “ Herpes – It Isn’t Who I Am, It Is Something I Have – STD Interviews.” But TheSTDProject.com is much more than a website: It now includes 12 websites, a podcast, and a YouTube channel. “We receive a little over 200,000 views per month: People share their stories anonymously through STD Interviews (there are over 300 interviews posted with people who have an STI), and we answer reader’s questions directly through consultations or anonymously on a podcast and video,” Pierce tells Bustle.
Pierce was inspired to start the site after her own herpes diagnosis. “I have genital herpes (mine is HSV2), and
I’ve also had HPV and scabies,” she says. “Although there were a lot of resources discussing the clinical information about transmission, symptoms, and treatment, there were very few people talking publicly about having an STI and what that’s like.” She says she felt as though the stigma would never get better if she didn’t talk about how hard it had been for her and how she dealt with it, while also providing a safe space for others to share their perspectives.
“I believe awareness is the first step — putting everyone’s unique experiences out there for others — and from there we gain insight and education around a topic that’s rarely discussed candidly,” Pierce says. She hopes that more people begin to understand and accept that an STI is not as tragic as society thinks. “I mean, I get that no one wants an STI — I don’t want another one either — but I’m also not terrified of them anymore,” she says.
In addition to running TheSTDProject.com, Pierce has also been the spokesperson for
PositiveSingles.com for the last few years. The site began in 2001 when their parent company, Successful Match, saw an opportunity to create dating sites that catered to niche communities, Pierce says. “PositiveSingles.com operates very similarly to mainstream dating apps, where you can sign up for free, and then, to access some of the more advanced features, you have to purchase a monthly membership,” she says. “What Positive Singles does well is allow for members to post journal entries, ask questions about symptoms and treatment, and connect with folks who have had similar experiences.”
However, Pierce says that just because
you have an STI, it doesn’t mean you only have to date someone with the same STI. “But it is a good way to get your feet wet after a diagnosis,” she says. “The number one question I hear after someone is newly diagnosed is, ‘How am I going to tell a new partner that I have _ infection?’ And even though we walk folks through how to approach disclosure without losing your mind, it can feel like an utterly terrifying thing to have to do.” So, that’s where Positive Singles comes in. “It’s a great way to get back into dating, and it can alleviate some of those initial fears about disclosing,” Pierce says.
However, the site is also a great resource as far as making friends and finding support groups. “Interestingly, what we find is that once someone has had an STI for a while, they usually venture back into more traditional dating apps,” she says. “Once they’ve realized that they’re the same person they were before, and they still have game, their confidence is restored.”
As you can see, the resources above all share a common mission: to help break the stigma surrounding STIs and show you that you’re not alone. Finding a support system is literally a click away, and who can ask for more than that?