Stigma of STDs

November 24th, 2009

A while back I was reading a piece in Best Sex Writing 2009 about the advent of online dating communities for people with STDs. The article talked about these different communities, some aimed for STD sufferers in general and others aimed for folks with more specific STDs, which aid people in finding similar folks. It’s supposed to help folks in a couple ways. First, it helps to get the message across because the fact that So and So has X virus is right out in the open. There’s no third date jitters because you don’t know how your partner will react to the bad news. It also helps people look for others with the same STD/strain so they needn’t worry about giving it to someone else.

But it definitely reduces the dating pool. In the article, one of the users of such a site mentioned how there were only ever 1 or 2 folks in her location on the sites and those were not matches made in heaven. It can be difficult to find even a possibility, nevertheless a hit, on general dating sites whose users surely number in the thousands think AdultFriendFinder or a specific match sites like think So reducing those numbers even more can make the task of finding a partner even more hopeless, under the guise of hopefulness. To put it plainly, it’s hard enough to find someone (or sometimes several) when you’re considering all the fish in the sea but STD dating sites are just a little pond.

I’m not entirely sure that folks with STDs should have to limit themselves to that little pond. Not only are the pickings sometimes slim but it’s all too easy to write off someone because their STD status is displayed so prominently. Assuming everyone chooses their partners wisely (ha!), there are circumstances where STDs do not have to be the deciding factor of a relationship but the stigma is so high that it can even penetrate a community intended for those whose STDs run the gamut. If someone with disease X can turn his nose down on someone with infection Y, it’s no wonder there’s such a stigma around STD sufferers in general. It’s no wonder someone thought it would be a good idea to make such a dating site (not that it’s not).

And the stigma? Is there. It’s certainly real. There’s a “them versus us” mentality. I’m not proud to say that I’d had an STI invade my body and I still think that way sometimes. I try not but it comes so easily. I imagine the type of person who could possibly be so stupid or silly and I realize that.. I was that person. I start thinking about my friends and acquaintances, knowing at least 3 of them have all had at least one STD or STI. We’re not loose women – some of us have only ever been with one person – and we’re certainly not stupid. Our cabinets aren’t stocked with cocaine nor are we sex workers. Basically, no one I know with an STD has fit any fantastic stereotype of an STD sufferer.

It’s then that I realize it’s now “us” and “them” because they are us and vice versa. If I could have an STD, then so could my best friend, my mom, my coworker or my neighbor. Not only is it plausible, but it’s likely that more of my friends and family than I know have struggled with an STD and, by its nature, the stigma involved with it. Science agrees: “Among those ages 15-49, only one in four Americans has not had a genital HPV infection” and 12 million Americans contract an STD each year 1. That means the other 75% have HPV and it’s likely they don’t even know it because many strains have no symptoms even even those which do can lay low for some time. I wouldn’t have known, if not for my yearly Pap and there’s currently no test for men at all. Of course, HPV is only one of many STDs. It becomes clear; although, many people who perpetuate the stigma actually have an STD. The reality is, not only is there no way to distinguish between people, it becomes far less necessary to do so (simply to feed the gossip and stereotypes), when considering the numbers.

Of course, I don’t even realize the stigma has affect me, even as I wonder if I would ever be able to have sex with someone besides my husband (should we ever get to that point) and I cringe because I don’t know what to say about my HPV. I don’t realize how easily it is to perpetuate the problem even as I picture that stereotypical “STD-person” all covered in warts and strung out in my head. It’s a stigma that does no one any good and a stigma which could use a good boot to the butt.

So does a dating site for STD sufferers help? I guess it depends on how you define the problem.

1 – American Social Health Association, Myths and Misconceptions about HPV

5 Comments to “Stigma of STDs”

  • Saraid says:

    Thanks for this, Adriana. I am actually going to get tested for the first time next week and am slightly nervous.

    I have only been with one person,but he has been with about 12. He was in a monogamous relationship before me, but I guess that never guarantees anything.

  • Darling Dove says:

    Stigma or not, I really dont think this is something that needs to be defended. Yes it happens, and some are worse than others, and its not always controllable

    But that doesnt change the fact that its still something you have that can infect others. Nobody is nice to people with OTHER diseases, when I have so much as a cough people move away from me. It is just how people are. They are looking out for themselves.

    Plus, most people have HPV, and sorry to say but it is a little bit different than herpes and HIV and other more severe STDs. HPV doesn’t do anything most of the time. It can be serious, sure, but its rare.

    In any case.. I think their dating pool could be wider if they used standard sites but were up front about it. There are some people who wont mind. They may never fuck bareback, but they might luck out.

    • Adriana says:

      I am not sure what you think I am defending DD but I would appreciate if this didn’t turn into one of your rants per usual.

      I’m not saying that it’s not important to protect yourselves or be responsible if you know you have an STD. I’m saying that the people who have them are (just like) you or me and that it’s unfair to paint them as some unclean, unhealthy, loose individual who lacks morals which is exactly what the stigma is. That is exactly why I listed statistics about having HPV – because it is so common that it is unfair for folks to make those snap judgments based on assumptions.

      • Juliettia says:

        I believe that your comment sums up the point you were trying to make in your entry. Perhaps reading the comment will help those understand the article a little more clearly.

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