STD stigma

(Cindy Proaño / Daily Titan)

In the age of online dating and meeting new people on the internet, it is easy to feel the need to put your best foot forward and hide potential flaws. Dating new people and engaging with various sexual partners can be a great means of connection, but it is crucial for this experience to include an open discussion about serious topics like sexually transmitted diseases. In order for STD transmission to decrease and couples to have safer sex, the stigma around STDs needs to be addressed and depleted from our culture.

STDs consist of various infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and AIDS. These common infections are spread from person to person through sexual intercourse. While most can be treated, some are incurable.

According to Los Angeles Care, there were more than 275,000 sexually transmitted disease cases in 2016 in Los Angeles county. California has set the record for diagnoses of STDs for three years in a row. With cases rising every year, it is imperative to normalize conversations about STDs between sexual partners. While it can be hard for some to speak about these things comfortably, this openness can help prevent the spread of diseases and encourage honest discussions about sex. 

In 2016, 504.4 per population of 100,000 had chlamydia, 164.3 per population of 100,000 had gonorrhea and 28.5 per population of 100,000 had early syphilis in Los Angeles county, according to Los Angeles Care. While open conversations can’t eliminate the problem all together, it can slow the spread of STDs and offer vital information for partners to learn to keep themselves safe.

It’s easy for people to neglect this conversation, but this carelessness has the power to cause severe detriment to a person’s wellness and can ruin trust between partners. 

In 2017, Planned Parenthood published an article highlighting the stigma of STDs and the cultural misconception of sex as dirty and immoral. The article stated, “When we separate people into the “guilty” and the “innocent,” we stigmatize sick people and add to their suffering. When we blame them for their own poor health, we lose sight of the compassion we should have for one another. And when we don’t help the ‘other’ be healthy, we all lose, since a healthy society is made up of healthy individuals.”

Due to various religions and dated ideologies, people are often taught to be ashamed of having sex and even more ashamed if they contract an STD from a partner. However, the only time anyone should feel shame about their sex lives is when they willingly ignore the sexual health of themselves and their partners. 

Fortunately, many states have produced laws against those who hide their STD status or knowingly spread a venereal disease. In California, transmitting STDs intentionally to a person is a misdemeanor, and the penalties can include up to $1,000 in fines or up to six months in jail. Attempted transmission is a misdemeanor with lower charges such as $1,000 in fines or up to 90 days in jail. 

Aside from California, 37 states have also created laws that penalize people who don’t discuss their STD status with their partners. 

In 21 of these states, people are required to disclose their status with their partners. The prison sentence depends on the state, but it can range from less than 10 years to life for not telling their partner that they have an STD. 

While state representatives have taken part to reduce the transmission of STDs and encourage discussions about sexual history and STD status, individuals are just as responsible to do what they can to prevent the spread of disease in their own personal lives.

As some STDs are asymptomatic, it is crucial for people to get regular STD checkups and notify their partners if a test comes back positive. While some STDs are incurable, there are treatments to prevent its complications or spread. Catching the diagnosis early with regular testing can help stop the spread and protect one’s sexual partners.

Along with consistent testing, practicing safe sex is optimal for ensuring one’s own health and the health of their partners. 

While shame and blame surrounding STDs can make it difficult for partners to have  conversations with one another about their sexual history, it is immoral to hide or avoid one’s diagnosis and continue to have sex. Honest dialogues about STDs allow partners to enjoy sex with one another while maintaining health, trust and respect.

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