STIs and slut-shaming - Dave I/O

STIs and slut-shaming

Wouldn't it be nice if things had changed since the 40s?

It’s coming up time for my regular STI screening. I firmly believe that anyone who’s sexually active, even if – like me – you’re extremely fastidious about using protection, should get themselves tested frequently. There are plenty of STIs out there, and some of the most common have symptoms that are easy to miss – or no outward symptoms at all. The vast majority can be cured, and the rest can be effectively managed.

There’s no reason not to know. You can have your results texted to you, and for the majority of people you can expect no more than a urine sample, a blood sample, a quick examination and a few swabs.

If you’re based in the UK, you can find your local NHS STI testing facilities by going to this page on the NHS Livewell site, entering your postcode on the right under “Services near you”, and then clicking “STI Testing / Treatment”.

Anyway, preaching aside, I was having a chat the other day with a friend of mine who’s equally careful with her sexual health. Quite innocently, she remarked that she was pleased that her tests recently “came back clean”.

A full panel of negative results is, of course, fantastic news. My issue, though, is the term ‘clean’ in this context. STIs are still massively stigmatised in our society. Massive headway has been made toward removing that stigma in the case of HIV, which is of course fantastic. However, insinuation of a sexually transmitted infection is still an insult against someone’s character. Infection means reckless promiscuity, says the social stigma, and promiscuity is a sign of a bad person.

While I was writing this, a member of the nationalist EDL group kindly proved my point. Click for big.

It’s gendered, too. Rarely have I heard of a man’s STI status used as a slur. The suggestion of infection is nine times out of ten directed against a woman, in equal parts by other women and by men. That fits with the patriarchal mindset when it comes to promiscuity; a woman is a slut, a man is a stud. A man can catch an STI from a promiscuous woman, but a woman is to blame for catching an STI from a man. Male promiscuity is lauded, or at the very least seen as somehow uncontrollable or ‘to be expected’. Female promiscuity is disgusting, a sign of ‘unwomanly’ conduct. It’s the same old story.

So, to refer to a negative STI status as ‘clean’ implies that a positive status is ‘dirty’. It’s not desirable, of course (outside of fringe ‘bugchaser’ elements, anyway), but it’s no more indicative of some kind of morally bereft lifestyle than a case of food poisoning. Both an STI and food poisoning are illnesses brought about by doing something fun – fucking and eating, respectively – but nobody ever hid a case of food poisoning for fear of being shamed.

Of course, the question is raised for those of us with moral views that reject promiscuity – what harm does this all do? Morals are subjective, after all. Well, it’s quite simple – when you shame something and make it ‘dirty’, people hide it. Look at anyone who isn’t heterosexual, or has experienced mental illness, or feels that their gender identity is mismatched with their body. Forcing people to hide these things does damage to them, causing depression and forcing them to live in fear of being ‘found out’.

There’s more than that, though; STIs are an even more special case. Because of their infectious nature, and the fact that people quite like fucking, hiding them can further their spread unnecessarily. Even if a sufferer uses standard prophylactic protection such as a condom, the STIs that can spread from and to the larger genital area like HPV and genital herpes are a risk. If you’re sleeping with someone, and they’ve got a cold, they tell you and you adjust contact accordingly to avoid infecting yourself. Without the stigma, these conditions can be managed and monitored at appropriate times to do exactly the same thing – but when a sufferer feels that they need to hide it, that management and monitoring becomes impossible.

Get yourself tested. Encourage your friends and lovers to get tested. It’s free on the NHS, and it might even save your fertility. If a positive result shows up, talk to the NHS counselling service and your GP to understand the implications for your sex life and make the necessary adjustments.

And please, for the sake of ethical sluts everywhere, use ‘negative’ or ‘all clear’ instead of ‘clean’ when talking about your STI status.

One Response
  1. 2012-04-15

Leave a Reply