The Stigma Surrounding STI Testing

Planet Parenthood suggests on their website sexually active individuals should get routine sexually transmitted infection or disease (STI/STD) testing at least once every year.

Whether you’ve received that dreaded 'we should talk'  text or you’ve just decided it’s time to get tested, nobody has ever said this process was fun. It is however, necessary if you are a sexually active woman with more than one exclusive sexual partner.

There is still a large amount of stigma in today’s society surrounding STIs, and by extension the practice of testing for STIs. While getting tested for an STI is actually a very responsible practice, it is treated as a dirty and shameless thing. Likely due to the connotations of sexual promiscuity that it accompanies, and our societies maintained shaming of sexually active women. There is a reason I’m typing this with the brightness of my computer screen on low, as I sit in a crowded classroom. STIs are a dirty word, and you must be a dirty person if you have one.

At all clinics, STI testing requires peeing in a cup, and often for a full screening, the drawing of blood. Your doctor will then send your samples to a lab, and call you if anything comes up positive.

Recently, a friend of mine found herself in the situation where she had to visit the on campus clinic twice in a period of four months for STI testing. The first time, because she felt she had been sexually active for long enough she should be tested, and the second because her sexual partner told her that he thought he had an STI.

Neither of the times was it pleasant experience.

During the first appointment, she had peed before the appointment, not knowing that you can't pee an hour before testing. This led to an awkward 30-minute wait outside the clinic bathroom. Not only that, but the questions asked by the nurse made her feel ashamed and irresponsible despite having come in for testing of her own volition. My friend said The nurse asked questions like 'You had unprotected sex only once . . . right?' My friend was aware that her choice to have unprotected sex was not the most responsible.

About a month after the second test, my friend found herself needing antibiotics for an STI. When she walked into the examination room, the nurse doing the preliminary exam was harsh and insensitive once she looked at my friends history, saying things such as 'You’re an old pro at this' in a condescending tone. My friend was already worried about judgment going into this appointment due to her past testing, and felt that the nurse was slut-shaming her. So why, even in the medical profession are women being shamed for their sexual health?

One of the most common STIs, Chlamydia, is so prevalent that at Carleton University they prescribe antibiotics before the urine specimen is even sent to the lab. Unfortunately, STIs are not as uncommon as they are made to sound and is an infection many university students might face.  The infection sounds scary; the stigma surrounding them is taught from a very young age and this is done mainly to enforce the practice of safe sex. While safe sex is obviously important, it should be taught in a way that leaves young women feeling less afraid of sex or STI screening.

Mistakes happen, and the fear of judgment that comes with an STI shouldn’t be preventing women from getting treatment. At it’s worst, an STI means telling all current and future partners about it, and being very cautious about practicing safe sex. At it’s best, an STI involves being treated with a single does of antibiotics and abstaining from sex for seven days until it has run its course.  While I’m not here to advocate that you should go out and get yourself an STI, I am saying that most STI’s are not the end of the world or most importantly, your sex life.