It’s a known fact that stigma and disease always go hand in hand. Over the years we have seen how people living with diseases like leprosy or TB or HIV have been burdened by moral judgements of the society. We’ve become a lot more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations – topics like politics, mental health or even sexuality were once deemed taboo – and yet we draw a hard line when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases. Why? Its because people are judgmental about sex. The people around think of sex and its aftermath as dirty and slutty.
Stigma usually starts in adolescence and is often taught by our family, our peers and /or our religion. It is also because of the abstinence-based sex education taught in schools. Due to this stigma, many people do not get tested which poses a grave danger to their physical and also mental health in the future. Even if a friend or loved one tests positive for an STI, they will want to count on you for support. It takes a lot of courage to open up about having an STI without being subjected to judgements.
Supporting a loved one with an STI
People with positive diagnosis are often depressed or anxious. They feel ashamed, that they are somehow damaged and that no one will want them in the future. There is also fear of what testing positive or what living with an STI looks like for dating, love and sex.
Supporting a loved one through this hard time can be very helpful for them. However, we often do not know how to go about it and may even hurt their sentiments along the way.
Lend a ear to them, let them know that this does not define their self-worth and just follow the RULE.
R- Respect their Privacy.
If someone, say your friend has confided in you, it’s incredibly important to respect their privacy and keep the information to yourself. Remember this is not your story to tell!
U- Understand the Broader Issues.
STIs likely make a person worried about their long-term health. There are also wider emotional ramifications. It can also change the way they feel about sex in general and may have prompted negative feelings about their own bodies.
Providing a kind and non-judgmental ear is the best way to help someone cope with an STI diagnosis. Just being able to talk through their feelings can be a huge relief to them. You’d be surprised at how much difference just listening can make.
E- Educate Yourself.
We sometimes use language and terms that can be disrespectful and offensive. It’s very unlikely that you know all about STIs and how to deal with them. Do your research, and be mindful of what you ask your friend as it may reflect the underlying internalised shame associated with STI.
You might not be able to give them the best medical advice or cure their problem. But remember “Kuch logo ko saath waqt bitaane se hi sab sahi ho jaata hai.” Be that person for your loved one. Let them know they are not alone and this does not make them any less worthy.