Dealing with Stigma and Shame
Stigma refers to the negative, often flat-out wrong beliefs that our society has about a group of people. Unfortunately, because our society is pretty sex-negative, STIs carry a lot of stigma. Here’s some help on dealing with stigma.
The sting of stigma
Even though you may not realize it, STI stigma has a huge impact on how we act and feel. It can make us think that STIs say something about what kind of person someone is. Sometimes, it leads people to feel bad about themselves for having an STI. Stigma can keep people from talking about STIs and getting tested and treated. HIV stigma is especially difficult, and we talk more about it here.
Whether someone has an STI or not says a big fat zero about someone’s character. It is NEVER ok to shame someone for having an STI or make assumptions about what kind of person they are.
If you have or had an STI and are having a hard time feeling good about yourself, you’re not alone. For now, concentrate on taking care of yourself. Do things you like and that make you feel good, like exercising, taking a calm bubble bath, watching a favorite TV show, and hanging out with your friends. Think about what you would say if your best friend told you that they had an STI—you (hopefully!) wouldn’t shame them or make them feel bad, but comfort them and reassure them. Tell yourself those same words of love and kindness. You deserve them.
Remember that you deserve respect. Having an STI does NOT make you unlovable, and it is not an excuse for your partner to put you down or call you names. This is an unhealthy relationship behavior. If it is part of a pattern used to maintain power and control in a relationship, it’s considered emotional abuse.
Ending STI stigma
We can all take part in ending STI stigma. Here are some things you can do:
- Educate yourself, which you’re already doing by reading this!
- Don’t make fun of others for having an STI, or imply that someone has an STI as a way to make fun of them.
- Speak up when someone puts down someone else for having an STI.
- Speak up when someone spreads false ideas about STIs (like that you can get them from a hot tub, toilet seat, or handshake).
- You’ll notice that we never use the word “clean” to describe someone who doesn’t have an STI. That’s because this creates the idea that having an STI makes you “dirty.” Try using language other than “clean” when you mean that someone is STI-free.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.