What does it mean for a disease or a condition to be "socially stigmatized?"

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Question: What does it mean for a disease or a condition to be "socially stigmatized?"

Answer: It means that people are judged or shunned for having it.

Many STDs are said to be socially stigmatized. In other words, people are judged or condemned for being infected with STDs. Other types of disease may also carry some level of social stigma. However, the  STD stigma is often particularly strong. In part, this is because people are often so incredibly judgmental about sex.

When someone is diagnosed with an STD and lets people know about it, there is often a strong negative reaction. They may find that people think of them as dirty or slutty. The truth is, this type of judgment is not only irrational. It's actually extremely counterproductive. Why?

  1. STDs are just infections. They have no inherent moral or immoral component. They infect people regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.
  2. Since most STDs are asymptomatic, the only way to know if you have one is to be tested regularly. The profound degree of social stigma associated with a positive diagnosis is a huge problem. It makes many people decide they'd rather not know their status/ Therefore people often spend years spreading diseases before they experience any serious personal consequences,. They think that if they don't know, then they don't have to lie about it or risk rejection.
  3. It only takes one sexual partner to end up with an STD. Sometimes, it doesn't take any. Having an STD says nothing about your sexual history except that you, probably, didn't reliably practice safer sex.
  1. STDs are incredibly common. Some, like HPV, infect more than half the sexually active population. Many of the people shaming people with STD stigma probably have an STD themselves. This has the potential to contribute to self hatred and depression after diagnosis. For example, herpes stigma can be bad enough to leave people feeling suicidal after a new diagnosis

    In my opinion, the only real cure for STD stigma is better sex education. People need to learn how common these diseases are. They need to learn how easily they're treated. Then, maybe, we can start working on making screening more common. After all, one of the worst parts of STD stigma is that doctors can suffer from it too. Sometimes that makes it hard to get tested, even if you don't suffer from STD stigma yourself. 

    Note: Two STDs that are associated with particularly high levels of social stigma are HIV and herpes.

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