It’s never easy to give patients bad news, but it’s even worse when that bad news happens to be about a sexually transmitted disease or infection (STD or STI).
It’s not uncommon for patients to take the news hard. However, thankfully, many STDs and STIs can be cured, and for those not curable, they can still be managed.
Reports show that one in two people will become afflicted with an STI before they turn 25. But, it’s the headlines of “STDs are at an all-time” make it hard to overcome the stigma of having an STI or STD. It’s even harder for a person to actually talk about their disease and experience. This stigma affects how often a person – man or woman – get tested for STDs.
According to the Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health study, 37 percent of men and 70 percent of women have been tested for STDs in the last year. The number one reason for not getting tested is the fear of society’s attitudes toward being STD positive.
While some patients are taking matters into their own hands and getting tested for STDs, there is still a rise in STIs and STDs in the general public. STIs such as HPV are extremely common with one study finding that 79 million in the U.S. living with it. 80 percent of sexually active individuals will get HPV at some time in their lives.
One in two people will contract oral herpes, and one in eight will contract genital herpes. However, the American Sexual Health Association finds that 90 percent of people don’t know they have genital herpes.
Still, knowing how prevalent these diseases are, the stigma behind them is very powerful. Think about the way in which mainstream media uses STDs and STIs. Many comedians use people who have herpes in their jokes. The language in talking about STDs and STIs is very damaging. When people read about STDs and STIs, the language is exaggerated - calling it an epidemic because millions of people are a carrier.
Another problem patients are faced with – when diagnosed with an STD – is that there is limited privacy, as they have to tell their partners they have a disease. Who really wants to be considered a carrier?
Here’s the reality: most people will meet someone with a sexual partner who has an STI or STD even though they also have one themselves. People need to stop looking at those who have an STD or STI has an infection and carrier, and see them as human beings.
In order to treat people with an STI or STD is to recognize that many people can manage their daily symptoms and are usually severe. For instance, people with herpes may have an outbreak of one blister that goes away within a couple of days. For others, it’s a longer and larger outbreak. When using medication and proper treatment, the symptoms don’t last, and they can go on living years without another outbreak.
It’s crucial to change how people talk about STD or STI-infected individuals, which starts with education about what it means to live with one and how it looks. With education, STD individuals can learn how widespread STDs and STIs are and recognizing it’s not a life sentence.
After that, they can talk to their doctor and get tips on how to be treated and how to talk to a potential partner about STDs and STIs. The more a person knows, the better off they’ll be for their sexual health.
When you know the facts, it significantly lessens the stigma of STDs and STIs and increases the chance of patients talking openly with their partners and themselves about the diseases. It’s very important people learn how to manage and treat their sexually transmitted diseases, and to remember that it’s not a shame to have one anymore. It’s not a life sentence that ruins a person’s romantic life.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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