Here at Pure Romance, we’re all about bringing pleasure to the people. And that means all the people, including those who are regularly desexualized whether because of age, ability, gender, race, or size. But one segment of the community we don’t talk about very often are those who have been diagnosed with and are living with an STI (short for sexually transmitted infection). That’s because a troubling silence exists around STIs. Folks often feel an unwarranted level of shame around their STI status because of what it presumably says about them.

Those who have an STI often worry that people will make assumptions about their number of sexual partners, about their character, and about their cleanliness (a misguided belief only amplified by the language we use around testing; negative test results are often referred to as “clean”). They worry they won’t find love, or that they’ll never be able to enjoy partnered sex again.

But all those myths we carry around STIs? They’re ridiculous. In fact, this negative stigma only exists because STIs are so closely tied to sex. And, well, sex… that’s a whole other ball of silence, complicated feelings, and screwed up cultural standards, isn’t it?

Sexually Transmitted Infections Are Just That: Infections

STIs are infections spread primarily through unprotected sexual contact. They can be caught regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation and are not in any way tied to morals or to the content of your character.

Other completely ordinary infections include the common cold, flu, strep throat, and stomach viruses. Just as with these other infections, your STI is not who you are. Rather, it’s something you have, like fingers, toes, elbows, and that secret stash of Ferrero Rocher chocolates in the closet. (Just me?)

They’re a part of your life. But no matter how large they loom in your life, your colds and your elbows and your secret chocolate do not define who you are. They do not define your worth as a person.

The same goes for your STI.

Also, Just Like Colds, STIs Are Hella Common

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than one million people contract an STI every day. Not only that but the CDC reports that 1 in 5 people in the United States have an STI.

So just an FYI, that STI of yours isn’t quite the scarlet letter our culture makes it out to be.

How Might We Talk About STIs Instead?

If you do have an STI, learn as much about it as you can. That way, you’ll be able to talk about it with confidence, deflecting misinformation about transmission, symptoms, and treatment with ease.

And when you do talk about STIs, make more of an effort to use affirming language. As mentioned above, a lot of stigmatizing language is used when we talk about STI status, words like “clean,” “dirty,” and “infected.” These words are designed to shame folks who have committed the sin of having the sexy-sex, and there’s nothing shameful about being sexually active.

You Keep On Keeping On, You Sexy Thing

Having an STI is normal. And no matter what society might lead you to believe, your diagnosis does not doom you to a lonely existence where the only sexual encounters you’re allowed to have are with your favorite vibrator.

I mean, you and your vibrator are obviously destined for a beautiful future together.

With that being said, love is there, too. Ripe for the taking. All you need to do is find that person who is smart enough to accept all of you — STI, closet chocolate, and all.

Stephanie Auteri

Stephanie Auteri

Journalist, author, & sex educator
Steph Auteri has written about sexuality for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and other publications, and has collaborated with folks at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), the Center for Sex Education, and Good in Bed. She is the author of A Dirty Word, a reported memoir about how female sexuality is so often treated like a dirty word.