Last updated: February 23, 2012 3:34 pm
Scares, stigmas and STIs
Old taboos shouldn't prevent communication about sexually transmitted infections
VICTORIA (CUP) — STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, have been a feared and stigmatized topic since biblical times. In contemporary times, we see a prominent stigma surrounding these infections. People are often labelled as “dirty” or “overly promiscuous” due to their affiliation with STIs. These people find themselves affected by a stigma that suggests all STIs are unmanageable problems that cause a person to be tainted for life. Though stigmas have been helped along by popular culture and old literature (for example, every Shakespeare comedy written), it is often taboos that prevent communication about STIs.
Jennifer Gibson, Island Sexual Health sexual health educator, teaches the importance of communication in curbing the spread of STIs as well as the stigmas behind them.
“In my experience as a sexual health educator, when sexually transmitted infections are being passed between partners, it often is because of the lack of communication that’s happened and it’s not [the intention] to harm someone; it’s that they haven’t been able to talk about it or they have no idea they actually have it,” says Gibson.
According to Gibson, the age-old preconceived notion that promiscuity is the recipe for disease isn’t necessarily true.
“People think that people who have multiple sexual partners have [an increased likelihood] of having a sexually transmitted infection than people who don’t. Theoretically, they have more opportunity for exposure, but they may not [actually] be getting exposed to sexually transmitted infections,” she explains.
One might say that the obvious way to avoid the spread of STIs is by frequent testing. Gibson recommends that people get checked at least once every three to six months or before every new partner depending on your frequency. However, getting checked isn’t always foolproof.
“Not all clinics offer the same standard testing. Often people go in for testing but they may not be told — or they may not ask — what they’ve been tested for. They then make assumptions that they’ve been tested for everything, when in fact it’s generally just those five that constitute a full STI screen [chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, syphilis and HIV].”
In some cases, according to Gibson, clinics might not even test for all of these; leaving syphilis out, for example. As uncommon as syphilis might be in comparison with say, chlamydia, lack of testing for the infection does reveal a basic flaw in the system.
Even the evolution of the naming of these infections, from “sexually transmitted diseases” to “sexually transmitted infections” as they are now called shows a basic reason of why they are so widespread.
“We now refer to them as STIs because it refers to things that are asymptomatic,” says Gibson.
This means that just because everything seems in working order does not necessarily mean that they are. Many STIs can go undetected without testing. This does not mean the infections are untreatable, however.
“I think that’s where your stigma comes in. It’s that idea that they are these long-term major issues for people’s health, which they can be, but they also can be very manageable if people are given proper care and testing,” says Gibson.
Yet while something like chlamydia is easier to treat than a headache, the stigma persists. However, by getting checked often, asking questions and staying informed about your sexual health, as Gibson teaches, the spread of STIs and the stigma that goes along with them will begin to subside.
As Gibson puts it, “the more we [get checked] the less opportunity for stigma is there because really it shouldn’t be any different than taking care of any other part of your body.”