Having an STI Isn’t Dirty or Shameful, and Acting like It Is Hurts All of Us

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

STIs are incredibly common.

Most people will have an STI at some point in their life. Actually, most people have already had one. A huge percent of people have one right now. And you might not know it, but there’s a decent chance you have an STI.

Here’s some stats from the American Sexual Health Association:

“One in two sexually active persons will contract an STI by age 25…
Researchers estimate that at least 80% of sexually active people will have an HPV infection at some point in their lifetime…
About 1 in 2 people ages 14–49 in the U.S. are infected with HSV-1, which is the typical cause of oral herpes. However, increasing numbers of genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-1.”

These infection rates may sound high, but they’re no cause for panic. While STIs can be severe and life-changing, many are minor and easily treated.

Having an STI doesn’t make you an outsider.


STIs aren’t just transmitted by sex.

All STIs can be transmitted through sexual activity, but that doesn’t mean every instance of an STI was contracted through sex. STIs can also be passed during birth, through breast milk and blood transfusions, by sharing needles or accidental needle sticks, and sometimes through non-sexual physical contact.

(And even if STIs were only spread through sex, that wouldn’t be a good reason to shame them. There shouldn’t be anything shameful about having sex.)

Getting an STI isn’t a moral failing, it’s a health condition.


STIs are preventable and treatable.

Some STIs can be prevented with vaccines, medications, or other safer sex practices. Some STIs can be detected and treated. Even if treatment doesn’t cure an STI, it might stop the infection from being passed to anyone else.

You may have an STI even if you don’t have any signs or symptoms. Here’s what the CDC says about getting tested:

“Make sure you have an open and honest conversation about your sexual history and STD testing with your doctor and ask whether you should be tested for STDs. If you are not comfortable talking with your regular health care provider about STDs, there are many clinics that provide confidential and free or low-cost testing.”

Take a minute to review the CDC’s STD & HIV Screening Recommendations.

Having an STI doesn’t mean you’re dangerous.


STIs aren’t treated by stigma.

Some people hope that we can prevent the spread of STIs by scaring people out of having sex or shaming them into using safer sex practices. And this might work on a few people, but stigma can also have effects that encourage the spread of STIs.

Shame around STIs means that people may be more reluctant to visit their doctor, talk honestly about their health, and get tested. People may also be less honest with their partners about their STI status and risk factors, making it more likely they will pass an STI on.

And when more people have untreated STIs, that increases the risk for all of us.

Stigmatizing STIs doesn’t make us safer.