This is a post by one of my Summer 2013 interns. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
Belief #2: STIs are dirty.
Science says: The medical definition for “infection” could be described as the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in body tissues, causing competitive metabolism, toxins, intracellular replication and antigen antibody response. Keeping this in mind, STI’s are still cell growth that occurs if conditions and resources are appropriate, which could turn into an infection if the environment is conducive to it. Though the effect of STIs are certainly undesirable, it is still more accurate and objective to describe them as as infections, and it is unnecessary not use the term “dirty”.
Yeah, but what does this mean? We have a natural tendency to not want ‘dirty things’ around us. This carries the same evolutionary reasoning as to why people are generally uncomfortable around the dead and decaying because from a prehistoric context, death and decay was a clear sign that danger wasn’t far behind. Proclaiming that STIs are dirty leads too much room to insinuate a “STI’s are dirty, therefore I am dirty” kind of mindset. If the implication is no one wants to be around filth and disease, then it makes it very difficult for an infected individual to feel good about being open about their status, which risks increasing reclusively.
Additionally, as one of the previous interns mentioned, it also sets up an inaccurate link between STI status and hygiene, which perpetrates the idea that if an individual has good daily hygiene, they risk thinking of themselves as impervious to disease or infection.
Solutions? Just as it is important to be open and honest about the subjects we discuss is it also important for us to be critical of how we choose to talk about these subjects. When talking openly about STI’s, it’s always a good idea to avoid using language that has intense negative connotations. Also, it should be noted that infections have implications in our health that are necessarily a detriment; for example, getting a vaccine promotes the same physiological mechanisms as sexually transmitted infections, but you don’t see medical professionals or educators calling them “dirty”. If you start thinking of STI’s as one of the same, you build a healthier relationship with the word, which will in turn, create a healthier relationship with the concept.
Stay tuned for Part III