How STDs Can Play a Role in Abusive Relationships

Man looming over afraid partner. Gillian Blease/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Not all relationships are good ones. An STD diagnosis is not necessarily a reason to avoid a relationship with someone. However, the way a partner handles that diagnosis can give you a good idea of his or her character. It can also help you figure out whether your relationship is a good one.

There are abusive individuals who will use sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to try and control or injure their partners.

This is usually done by intentionally exposing a partner to an STD in order to make them feel trapped in the relationship. It may also be done by using a partner's existing STD to erode their sense of self-worth.

Intentionally infecting their lovers with an STD so they "have to stay with them forever"

People who have been infected with an incurable STD often feel ruined, dirty or ashamed. While most people can get over such feelings with time and counseling, some unethical and abusive individuals will intentionally infect a partner with their STD. Their goal is to induce the same feelings of shame and to keep their partner with them forever.

Some Typical Quotes:

  • "Well, if I give him herpes, then he'll have to stay with me."
  • "Now you're ruined, too. You might as well stay with me because no one else will have you."
  • "Now that you have this disease, there's no way anyone else will love you. If you leave me, you'll be alone for the rest of your life."

    The truth is that anyone who intentionally infects you with an STD and then tells you that you have to stay with him or her because you are "ruined," "dirty," "unlovable" or any other description is not someone you should be in a relationship with. It doesn't matter if their actions come out of feelings of insecurity or self-loathing.

    Knowingly infecting someone with an STD, with the intention of using the disease to take control over their partner's life, is cruel and abusive. It's a good sign that you need to find a safe way out of that relationship as quickly as possible.

    That said, it is important to acknowledge that it is possible for people to expose their partners to STDs unintentionally. For instance, this often happens if someone has an asymptomatic infection of which they are unaware. It is also worth mentioning that some people knowingly expose their partners to STDs out of shame, ignorance, or negligence rather than cruelty. While such situations may be betrayals of trust and failures of communication, they are not always abusive.

    Making you think that no one will love you because you have an STD

    When a relationship has started to go badly, some people will use any method they can to keep their partner from leaving. One such method may be telling their lover that it will be impossible for them to find a new partner because they have been diagnosed with an STD.

    Some Typical Quotes:

    • "You're lucky that you found me. No one else would have you the way you are."
    • "You can't leave me. You'll never find another person who will accept your diagnosis."
    • "The only reason I can look past your disease is that I've known you for years. No one else will take the time to bother."

    Don't believe the lies. Many people with STDs who are open and honest about their diagnoses have found other loving - sexual and romantic - relationships. STDs are extremely common. There are people out there who do not consider any STD to be a "deal breaker."

    It's true that some people you might want to date will not be able to deal with your STD diagnosis. However, that doesn't mean that it is impossible to find love. People will often choose to take reasonable risks to be with someone they care about. Those risks may include the chance of being exposed to an STD. It often doesn't seem like such a big deal when you're choosing to be with someone you love.

    The Bottom Line

    Just because you have an STD, even an incurable one, does not mean that you have to stay with your current partner. There are ways to get help - both with your infection and to get out of the relationship.

    STDs do not make you a bad person, a dirty person or someone unworthy of love. STDs are not a judgment from God. They are not a sign that you don't deserve to be happy.

    An STD Is NOT a Reason to Stay in an Abusive Relationship

    Find information about the National Domestic Violence Hotline here. Or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

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