Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's so embarassing about an STD, anyway?

The young, lovely and talented Julianne Hough of Dancing With the Stars has been in the news lately for revealing that she has endometriosis, which caused a cyst on her ovary that need to be removed. This will cost her a couple of weeks on the show, in order to recover, and she wanted her fans to know why she would be temporarily off the show.

I heard this story reported by Teresa Strasser on Adam Corolla's radio show. She then commented on the fact that some people have expressed that this is too much information, or Julianne should be embarrassed about talking about this. Teresa then something along the lines of "Why should she be embarrassed? It's not like it's an STD."

Thankfully, Teresa then said something really quick and sort of undecipherable like "and even if it was that would be ok," but Adam had already begun talking. Like she caught herself and realized that maybe, just maybe, having an STD or STI is also a perfectly valid and normal medical concern which people might be allowed to possibly talk about as well.

I have read that STDs are so common that they come in 2nd place as far as commonality behind the flu! Yet we can't talk about it?

One of the most common topics of discussion amongst humanoids seems to be complaining about our health. Whenever someone has the slightest ailment, they talk about it. They tell their friends, family and coworkers exactly what is going on. Even if it's slightly embarrassing and has to do with nether regions (yeast infections, hemorrhoids). Even if it is contagious (the flu). Even if it has to do with having sex (UTIs.)

Where do they draw the line? Here's what I've noticed. People don't seem to be comfortable talking about problems which are something caused by sex AND are potentially contagious. That combo, for whatever reason, is not generally socially accepted.

For example, I've never heard a casual mention of having caught syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or herpes, even though they are common. We can talk about UTI's (usually caused by sex), but we CAN'T talk about type 2 genital herpes, even though 1 out of 4 women have it? We can talk about cold sores, but we can't talk about type 1 genital herpes, which are caused by the same exact virus that causes cold sores? (HSV1, which up to 60-90% of the population has depending on their age group.) Huh?

One exception - I've noticed it's okay to talk about having gotten an abnormal pap and having had pre-cancerous cells detected and removed, even though that means that they caught a dangerous strain of HPV, a common STD. I have even heard more than one coworker give this as a reason for being out for a few days. (I suspect I would never hear of a coworker being out for a few days because of a primary herpes outbreak.) Maybe this is just because people didn't know for a long time that HPV was the cause of most cases of cervical cancer, and that you get HPV from sexual contact? (since sexual contact is so BAD and all.) Or maybe it's because it is so common that it is just accepted, and people don't think of it that way. ...Or maybe, just maybe, they just don't care that HPV is an STD and they are starting to get over the attitude that STDs are somehow embarrassing and we need to hide away and never talk about having had one.

Ironically, some strains of HPV cause genital warts rather than cancer, but it would be a cold day in hell before I walk into work and hear a coworker complaining of having genital warts. It's kind of strange to think it's okay to talk about cancer, but not warts.

People don't talk publicly about these things because of puritanical attitudes still deeply ingrained in society. But I want you to know it does NOT mean that other people aren't getting STDs. You don't have to feel awkward when one ignoramus makes some stupid comment or joke about STDs. Chances are very, very high that most people who are laughing along are just doing so so they won't stick out or be suspected of having actually had one, or having one. People have sex. They get STDs. They are treated and cured, or managed. Just like any other infection or disease that people get. And that's that. It doesn't mean they are having sex with everyone they meet. You don't have to have sex with everyone you meet to get an STI. It only takes one person, and a bit of bad luck. (Remember, condoms don't totally prevent transmission of herpes or HPV, and these things can be had or spread with zero symptoms.) And many times, that one person is our monogamous partner. It doesn't make either of you a bad person. If you gave one another the flu, it wouldn't make you bad people, either.

Sex is everywhere we look, and people don't seem to be ashamed about having sex. I think they are more embarrassed or self-pitying when they are NOT having sex. So why are they so embarrassed about being exposed to things that come along with having sex?

People have been marginalized in many ways for many kinds of things, and are often gradually more and more accepted until it becomes strange to NOT accept them. I hope that in time, as people can finally face the fact that genital herpes is more common than diabetes, we will get real and just let it go, already. I don't need to talk about it with everyone I meet, but I certainly don't need to feel marginalized for it or that I need to be embarrassed. And I won't.

55 comments:

aj said...

Well, hell. I should be very embarrassed - I had endo and I have hsv2. And... just about everyone who knows me knows about the endo and subsequent hysterectomy, and many know about hsv2. Someone needs to teach me how to carry shame, huh? ;)

LuAnn said...

I've been very open about my Herpes. Why hide it? Of course being hospitalized with my primary OB in the small local hospital I work in with it didn't help keep it quiet! But, for me, it's like talking about getting my gallbladder taken out. Hey, I've got Herpes. So what? My excema bothers me a 100 times more than the herpes.

We have sex. Things get transmitted. Like children!!! A germ being transmitted....why is that such a stigma??? You can get ghsv1 from a simple thing like a kiss for heaven's sake! Nothing sexual about that, necessarily.

When I had my hysterectomy, my nurse friends gave me a 'going away' party for my uterus and made a cake with a uterus and tubes on it that said Farewell Old Friend. It was great!

I suppose I have my own insecurities about some things. But not embarassed about the herpes.

HSV2 Man said...

Great blog!

You left a comment on my blog ages ago and this is the first time I have caught up since then.

I really enjoyed reading your blog - you write very well. Keep up the great work - the world needs more people writing honestly about there experiences on this.

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youngone said...

Thank you soo much. I have hsv2 and I live in a part of the world where it's not nearly as common and just as stigmatic.

I find the disease manageable, what's hard is the shame. The stress, the worry. The things put in place by other people, not the occasional cold sore.

Maybe I should move to the US? :) I could even use the statistic as a pick up line, 'Hey, are you one in four?' *wink wink*

Anonymous said...

thank you.. I found out a few years ago I had HPV... and then a ilttle while later I got my first outbreak of Herpes. I was extremely sad and confused & embarassed by it; mostly it's frustrating not knowing how I got it. I then also got a few warts (caused by the HPV virus) so it was like a triple whammy. I do find some comfort in thefact that it is very common and happens to a lot of people out there. I'm also glad I have the internet so I can see others people stories and experiences, that makes me feel better. Hopefully we will soon get to a point where we can all talk about it & not feel embarassed or judged.

thanks!

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Anonymous said...

Great blog! Thank you so much for writing this blog.
I have Genital Herpes for about 5 years now and I am still very embarrassed. I really wish I could turn back the hand of time. I cry often knowing that I have given someone else that I love very much a cold sore and he could have given it to other innocent people. I tend to feel very discouraged at times and really wish I didn't have to go through this.
I will never forgive myself.

ashlee said...

thank you. this makes me feel so much more human.

DesiDerata said...

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Anonymous said...

i hope i didnt give the girl of my dreams herpes .we only had sex once and was very quick since i was on my break at work

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Anonymous said...

I thank you so much for your blog. I've had it for 10 years and I am so very embarrassed still. Mainly because us people with Herpes are always the butt of all jokes...On T.V, in movies, in songs,....I just dont get it.

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Anonymous said...

Well I found put I contracted genital herpes in May of 2012 and I'm still very stressed about it. I mainly feel guilty for not having the guts to tell my partners that I had un protected sex with knowing I had this disease. I justdont know how to approach that conversation. I have told some people and I would like to educate more people and my self on it.IM so embarrassed only because other people think its gross.because as long as I take my medicine I have no break outs so its definitely manageable. Even though I'd rather not have of at all.but I am still staying strong. This blog is helping me right now I don't feel as alienated. Thank you for writing this.

know more about sizegurus said...

The only way to completely reduce the chances of getting an STD would be total abstinence or having sexually intercourse with someone that knows for sure via testing he or she does not have an STD.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say thanks for posting this. I have caught 2 cureable STDs and still have so much trouble with the shame I feel because I've had TWO...not just ONE. Irresponsibility on one, and with a what i THOUGHT was a monogamous relationship with the other.
So thanks, for reminding me that I'm NOT alone.

Autumn said...

It is embarrassing and shameful to have an STD because it makes people think that you have no sexual standards, that you didn't check for signs of a disease, that you didn't wear a condom, that your partner is a liar or doesn't care enough about their and their potential partner's health to get tested, that you are an imbecile for not making them get tested before you had sex with them, and (in the case of HIV and AIDs) that you don't care whether you or the people you screw live or die, and the same goes for your partner. It the inconsiderate, lying, immoral part of it that is shameful, as it should be. And when someone in a 'monogamous relationship' suddenly catches a virus, where do you think that came from -the sky? No, that person cheated on their partner with someone else and brought it back home to pass around the dinner table. And that is completely immoral. They may have just ruined or taken the innocent life of their partner because they wanted to whore themselves around.
Your article promotes the idea that being a whore and getting STDs should be socially acceptable when it never will be. To be that irresponsible is worthy of shame and ridicule.
And what is SO WRONG with abstinence? Is America so jacked up on hormones that they can't use the most fool proof method for not being used and infected and thrown away like trash?

Anonymous said...

Autumn, first of all I'd like to point out a few things that you might not know. Herpes isn't tested for during routine std tests because most people have it and because it doesn't cause any significant health problems other than irritation. You could be a virgin and marry another virgin and if one person has ever had a cold sore in their life and engages in oral sex with their spouse they could get genital herpes. HPV is contracted through skin contact and men don't have symptoms nor are they tested for it. So both people could be responsible, get tested, and use condoms and the woman can still end up getting HPV which can cause cervical cancer. There is absolutely nothing wrong with abstinence. There is also nothing wrong with having sex. It doesn't make a person a slut or a whore if they get an STD as hopefully the info I listed above helps explain. You can get an std from one partner even if you use protection and both people were tested. The author is making the point that if you do have an std it shouldn't be shameful and people should be able to talk about it if they choose without feeling judged as a disgusting whore ect.

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