Erasing the Stigma of STIs

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Sexually transmitted infections commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases will affect 1 in 2 people by the age of 25. That’s an awfully large number, but it’s one that isn’t talked about. The stigma surrounding STIs keeps many people in silence. No one likes to admit they have a STI. Many people are also not educated on how common STIs are. Most people will lie about their history and even avoid screenings all together rather than having honest discussions about STIs.

So, let’s have an honest discussion. It is important we have an honest discussion. 

STIs recently started being referred to as infections instead of diseases because not all STIs will result in disease. There are 27 sexually transmitted infections in the world and only 4 of them cannot be cured. Although many of these STIs can be treated, if left untreated they can cause some serious damage which is why it is important to routinely have check ups! It is recommended that if you are sexually active, you should get checked at least once a year or before sexually engaging in new partners. Most cities offer testing for free, so it won’t even cost you a dime to check up on your health. 

Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, and Syphilis which are all common STIs can be completely cured. Most cases of Gonorrhea can be cured as well except for one strain which has become resistant to antibiotics. What about the incurable ones, though? Well, let’s talk about the four incurable ones.

 

1)        HPV- Chances are if you are sexually active, you will contract HPV in your life time. HPV affects 75% of the population. About 95% of HPV cases will show no symptoms and cause no problems. HPV can clear up on its own, but a few cases will stay chronically and may lead to cervical cancer in women. Most men will also contract HPV in their lifetime, but will not see the ill effects of cervical cancer that HPV can cause. There are over a 170 different types of HPV. Two that lead to cervical cancer (16 and 18) can be vaccinated against in both men and women! 

2)        Herpes or HSV- This is the STI that most everyone has, but no one knows they have it. There are 8 different types of the herpes virus. 9 out of 10 people have some form of the herpes virus. 1 out of 3 people have HSV-1 which is often present orally in the form of cold sores and can be transmitted to the genitals. 1 out of 6 people have genital herpes. You cannot die from herpes, although it may increase your risk of contracting another STI. If you really want to know whether or not you have herpes, a specific blood test must be administered which is not usually included in regular STI checks. Not everyone will have outbreaks, but the infection can still be transmitted. 

3)        Hepatitis B- The number of people infected with Hepatitis B has decreased within the last few years. In 2012, 18,000 people are said to be infected with Hepatitis B. Most people fight off the infection within a few months and then become immune to active infections for the rest of their lives. About 5% to 10% of people will develop a chronic infection. This means the infection has been active in their system for more than 6 months. They are now a carrier and can give the infection to sexual partners or by sharing needles. Carriers will have chronic liver problems which could lead to liver cancer. The great thing is that your children can be vaccinated for Hep B. This will protect you from contracting Hepatitis B. 

4)        HIV- About 1.1 million people are living with HIV today. HIV can eventually lead to AIDS which is fatal. Most people will never develop AIDS and many people with HIV will live normal lives. There are medications today that can greatly reduce your risk of passing HIV. Many people take medication to reduce their “viral load” to an almost undetectable level. They then only have a 4% chance of passing on the infection. PreP can also be taken to prevent HIV as well as treat it. 

 

As you can see, even with the incurable ones, if you take certain precautions and seek treatment, these infections will not be fatal. What is fatal is most STIs that are not treated. MOST people do not know they have an STI. I think this cannot be stressed enough. The stigma surrounding STIs must be eliminated because the fear of having an infection prevents many people from being tested and seeking treatment. If you are sexually active, you will probably contract an STI. Just like how by living in this world, you’ll probably get sick at one point in your life, if not many times. The important thing, just like all sicknesses, is seeking treatment and frequent checkups. 

Condoms are great barriers but they are not 100% effective. It’s important that we talk to one another about STIs. The more we communicate with our partners, the more we remove the stigma. The more we remove the stigma, the more knowledgeable we become on safe sex and treatments. No one belittles other people when they catch a cold or contract the flu. Just because an infection is transmitted sexually, it does not mean that it is bad. It does not mean that you are bad. In fact, all it takes is one time engaging in sex to contract a sexually transmitted infection. 

Want to help end the stigma? Communicate with your partners honestly and compassionately about STIs. Avoid using words like dirty or unclean to describe people who have contracted an STI. Speak out when you hear people making stereotypes about promiscuous people most likely having an STI. Anyone who engages in sex is at risk for an STI. 

Let’s end the stigma! Get tested. Be communicative and seek treatment. You are meant to have a beautiful sexual life.