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The number of STD cases are on the rise in Australia. That’s the finding from a new report, which was released today.

The annual report into sexually transmitted diseases (also referred to as sexually transmitted infections or STIs) revealed an 8 per cent rise in the number of HIV cases in 2011 and an increase of 50 per cent in the last decade.

The report also shows diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea are becoming more common.

by MATYLDA BUCZKO

Chlamydia. Herpes. Genital warts. Gonorrhoea. How do those words make you feel? Queasy? Embarrassed? Cringe worthy? All of the above?

Despite these STIs being extremely common and as old as sex itself, the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted infections would suggest we are still living in the dark ages. Do we imagine that if we confess to having had one – or more- of these infections we will be rounded up, publicly shamed, then burned at the stake?

Many STIs exhibit little to no symptoms, so the ease with which they can be transferred to others, unknowingly and unwittingly, is understandable, unsurprising and one might even say, forgivable.

And just because we could think of no other way to illustrate this story…. Introducing STI cupcakes. As you do. (Warning the rest of this gallery of bizarre cakes is NSFW)

Look! STI cupackes. As you do....

I have deliberated about writing the next few lines as they contain this admission: my ex-boyfriend once gave me Chlamydia.  When he told me, I was far from understanding or forgiving and it was certainly far from expected. In fact, he was my first sexual partner, so the reminder that he had slept with someone else previously, who had passed it to him, who then passed it to me, made me feel disgusted. Dirty. Cheated on.  I felt I had in some way been sexually connected to some unclean, promiscuous, diseased female against my will. I felt my “purity” had been stripped and my introduction to the world of sex been tainted far too early. My first partner and I already had one of those things?

Many years on, it is my reaction to that incident that should make me feel embarrassed of myself. I was guilty of not only overreacting to the social stigma of STIs, but also perpetuating it by my inability to deal with this single, common incident without cloaking it in shame.

123638511 You cant spell stigma without STI. Of course, it is never pleasant news to hear that you have tested positive for an STI, particularly when it is from someone you care about. It can feel like a violation and it can be a confronting reality to think about your partner with someone else. But I should consider myself lucky – I had a partner who informed me immediately when he found out and Chlamydia is easily treatable. One visit to the doctor, a few tablets with water and boom, clean as a whistle.  I had felt such relief and vowed to never share the experience with anyone. Had I ever thought to bring this up with close friends I’m sure I would have been bombarded with expressions of empathy –Don’t worry! I’ve been there too! Instead, I felt like I had to bury a dirty secret.

Statistically speaking, it is difficult to find concrete numbers of STI rates worldwide. No central organisation collects data on STIs due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate records. This year, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 19 million new cases of STDs reported annually in the USA alone.

These figures prove that STIs are just as common as a cold, migraine or hayfever. Similarly, they do not distinguish between race, religion, culture or ethnicity. Yet ignorant, spiteful connections are too often made between STIs and specific groups of people. STIs can be transmitted through just one sexual encounter or partner, yet despite that, there still exists an archaic connection between STIs and promiscuity in women. It all harks back to the paranoid propaganda posters of the 50s, where sexually active women were portrayed as disease ridden nymphettes and men better stay clear!

The social and global consequences of maintaining these stigmas are far more harmful than just creating feelings of shame and embarrassment. Consider the fact that most STI’s are contracted by people aged 15-30 years old. Stigmas surrounding STIs mean that adolescents and young adults are often too embarrassed to seek treatment, or uninformed as to how to do so. This leads to risks of sterility, infertility, cancer, damage to infants during gestation and other complications.

Furthermore, if diagnosed, a failure to discuss STIs with sexual partners can result in a dangerous two pronged road. The first, is failing to contact previous sexual partners to find the initial source of infection and ensure all other cases be found and treated. The second is allowing the STI to continue to be spread.

We cannot compare the symptoms and consequences of common STIs to the more destructive nature of the HIV and AIDS viruses, but the ability they have to spread globally at a rate unstoppable and unmanageable by health authorities is equally alarming. Why have we made it so hard to say, “Yes, I am one of the millions who have had an STI”, and why is it so hard for those who judge to realise they will most likely have the same experience?

 

Have you ever had an STI, or do you know someone who has? What’s been your experience with stigma from the community? 

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