Why STI Stigma Matters

By Krista White

At Kiki For The Future, we are firm believers that there is no place for shame (unless that’s your kink) or stigma when it comes to sex. And that includes your STI status. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma around sexual health stemming from purity culture and the way we connect health with morality. The ultimate message being: if you have an STI, you are bad and you should feel bad.

What good is sexual shame?

Sexual shame is a tool used to control people, especially women, and only hinders our ability to have fulfilling, connected, and liberated sex lives. Believing you did something to “deserve” an STI or that having one is a moral failing makes it harder for you to disclose your status, a key component to both consent and public health. If we are ashamed of STIs we a) have trouble disclosing and preventing transmission b) are less likely to get tested to know our status and c) are less likely to talk about and understand them.

When I was diagnosed with HPV three years ago (I’ve since cleared the virus), I had no idea I could even get it, since I’d been vaccinated as a kid. I learned that the HPV vaccine only protects against certain high-risk strains that cause cancer and low-risk strains that cause genital warts (which is great, go vaccines!) but I didn’t know that I could catch other strains or how easily you can contract the virus since it’s transmitted via skin-to-skin contact. Just knowing more about HPV might have made my diagnosis less scary and could have made it easier for me to talk about.

Shatter the stigma

One way we can help break the stigma surrounding folks who are STI-positive is by changing our language. By shifting your vocabulary away from phrases like “are you clean?” to “what’s your STI status?” helps change the way we frame sexual health. We should think about STIs the way we treat other infections and health concerns. No one should be shamed for their health and health has nothing to do with your worth or whether you are a good person. And while contracting an STI doesn’t necessarily mean you are promiscuous, even if you are, it doesn’t mean you “deserve” it. Plus, we believe you should be able to have however much sex you want, how you want it, with whomever you want. And by the way, when it comes to reclaiming language, we love sluts over here. (Shout out to the HSV+ community and babes like our pal Safe Slut!)

Another way to transform cultural perceptions of STIs is through education. I recently sat down with Jenelle Marie Pierce, founder and Executive Director of the STI Project, for an interview that you can watch over on our Patreon. The STI Project is an incredible, medically fact-checked resource that covers everything from disclosure and support for living with STIs to in-depth guides.

The best way to protect your sexual health is to know your status. If you’re overwhelmed with where to begin, check out our post about how to get tested. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, your STI status has no bearing on your worth. Catching a cold doesn’t make you a bad or dirty person, and neither does contracting an STI.

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