Breaking down some of the stigma surrounding STI testing and easing some of the guilt or shame people experience when getting tested or receiving a positive result. For International Self-Care Day, take care of yourself and get tested!
This month, Eve Kit is focusing on self-care. Self-care is an all-encompassing term meaning to do things for yourself that will improve your overall mental and physical health. This could mean hitting that yoga class, giving yourself a much needed facial, practicing mindfulness, or sleeping in on the weekend.
Another important part of self-care is ensuring you are engaging in activities that include health promotion, such as getting routine STI testing. This should be done at some frequency when sexually active — whether that’s every three or six months, or even annually. Unfortunately, there continues to be a stigma around getting tested. So much so, that many individuals don’t want to get tested with their family physician or nurse practitioner — or even attend an STI clinic, because they feel that a positive result reflects poorly on them, or makes them “one of those people.”
What I would like to aim to do in this article is to break down some of the stigma and hopefully make it a less daunting experience. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it’s probably never going to be something people look forward to doing, but by opening the conversation about it, we can start easing some of the guilt or shame associated with getting tested or receiving a positive result.
I recall a client coming into clinic several years ago to get tested. She was a 20-something year old university student, and when she entered the room, she was as white as a sheet — I thought she might pass out right then and there. I asked her what brought her in, and she described her experience of “hooking up” with this “cute” guy that she had crushed on for quite some time, only to wake up the next day with utter panic that she was going to have an STI. When I asked her why this was such a difficult experience for her, she responded,
“because if I end up having an STI, no one will want to date me…I will be considered promiscuous and I could never call my ex and tell him — I would just die of embarrassment!”
Sadly, this sentiment wraps up how most people feel when they are getting tested or waiting for results.
The truth is, anyone that is sexually active (even if it’s just once) is susceptible to STIs, because STIs don’t discriminate. Interestingly enough, online dating — a great way to meet new people — has increased the rates of STIs in Ontario, and increases the chance of being positive. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s the reality — and everyone should consider regular testing.
If you do take the leap and get tested you will hopefully be in an environment with a compassionate clinician who will extensively counsel you on risk factors, types of testing, how to get your results, and what a positive result will mean.
In my clinical experience clients have a wide range of emotions when it comes to a positive result. Most often clients are positive for chlamydia and/or gonorrhea, two of the most common bacterial STIs. So why is it that people feel so hurt when they receive a positive result, especially considering both of these infections are curable with single doses of one or more antibiotics?
It’s simple. STIs have a long history of being associated with having many partners, which has often been considered negative, and fuels stigma.
Here are some common reactions I have heard. Hopefully knowing that others have felt the same way will help to validate these feelings, if you experience them — while at the same time, help to let them go, and focus on getting healthy.
“I can’t believe my partner cheated on me.”
“I knew there was something wrong with them.”
“What does this mean for our relationship?”
“No way I’m telling that person I’m positive, they probably gave it to me.”
A few key facts to remember to combat some of these feelings:
1. There is absolutely no way to tell that someone has an STI. There are no specific “types of people” who get STIs. As mentioned previously, they do not discriminate.
2. Many people don’t have symptoms from STIs, and because of this, often folks unknowingly transmit STIs to one another.
3. The most important consideration is that because many people don’t have symptoms of STIs, they may have acquired it months or even years ago. This means that they may have had the infection long before your relationship, but had never been tested. Therefore, it is difficult to figure out where the STI came from.
The point I’m trying to make is, would you judge someone for getting strep throat and needing to take antibiotics? No, likely you would not. So then why do we shame each other for getting an infection that is associated with sex? I want to be clear, it is very important to practice safe sex, but if you take anything away from this article, let it be that there is no shame in getting tested, and there should be no guilt felt from receiving a positive result.
Questions and comments are always welcome!
Mia Biondi is a PhD in Microbiology &a Registered Nurse. She strives to focus on safe sex-positive practices, decreasing stigma around infectious diseases, & improving open communication between clients and healthcare providers.
Editing and contributions by Elyse Erickson, a holistic business mentor and sales professional with a passion for helping people work towards health and happiness.
By Izabella Kaczmarek`
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