This Shaming Article About STI Statistics Left Me Thinking “WTF?!”

frustrated girl with glasses

Articles like the one I read are so frustrating. Source: Shutterstock

So in doing my usual look around for stories to share with you all this morning, I came across this recap from msnNOW. It’s about some statistics released by the Centers For Disease Control about STI rates in the U.S., especially regarding young people ages 15-24.

While the topic of the recap was STIs, my reaction was more along the lines of WTF. Why? Well, thanks to lines like this: “According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 an icky 110,197,000 Americans were carrying some hideous sexual infection, including the drippy 19.7 million who contracted something nasty that year.”

Look, I think we can agree that having an STI is not ideal. I don’t think anybody wants to have an infection down there, especially considering the health impacts. But I don’t think repeatedly referring to these people as “icky” and highlighting how “nasty” STIs isn’t the way to go about delivering actually important statistics. After the fact shaming helps nobody and just perpetuates stigmas and makes people feel like pariahs.

What will work is education and prevention. This piece from MSN is really not accomplishing either of those things and the message behind these numbers is getting lost. Compare it to how the Centers for Disease Control fact sheet originally wrote up these same STI statistics.

They show these numbers and then discuss consequences of STIs and highlight the importance of getting tested, prevention and treatment. These are actually practical and important suggestions based on this data that aren’t shaming. They don’t downplay the seriousness of the statistics, but they do it in a way that wants to help rather than mock.

These CDC statistics need to be discussed, but it’s also important to consider the way they are discussed. If we shame STIs, we won’t talk about it, and if we don’t talk about it, it’s less likely we can figure out how to make sure everyone practices safe sex.

For example, it’s hard to talk to your partner about having an STD, but it is a safety concern and a necessary discussion. However, if we keep shaming people with STIs, that may make people less likely to even get tested or to talk about their status with their partner. These things could end up exposing more people to STIs rather than cutting down on these numbers.

It scares me because MSN is a pretty prominent name on the Internet, so I can only imagine how many people saw this write-up. It’s unfortunate because those statistics really are important. Definitely check out that CDC fact sheet because it serves as a reminder that you should always use protection when having sex to cut down on your risks of infection. They can accomplish that without perpetuating stigmas about STIs or alienating those who do have them, so let us learn from them about how to have productive STI discussion from here on out.

What do you think is the most effective way to talk about STIs and safe sex? Do you feel like people with STIs face a stigma? Tell me in the comments!

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Posted in: STDs & STIs
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  • Capybara86

    Thank you SO SO much for this Meg,
    As a person who both is postive for an STD and the proud owner of two biology degrees I could not be more upset by the phrasing in this article. Having an STD/STI is difficult enough without the stigma attached. Personally, I believed I was being safe by making sure all of my partners were tested, but I was wrong. It turns out that different clinics and doctors test for most bacterial infections, but many “full panels” are not truly that. Case in point: genital herpes. Most people that have it DON’T KNOW!! All I can say is be careful and very open/honest with your partners/doctors.
    P.S. The associations the article makes between lack of education and STIs are wrong and I should know…I work in a lab at the CDC 🙂