Dismantling the Stigma Around AIDS and other STIs


On Sunday, Dec. 1, the international community will recognize the 31st anniversary of World AIDS Day. According to the World AIDS Day website, it was the “first ever global health day.” The day is dedicated not only to expressing solidarity with those living with the disease, but to raise awareness and commemorate those that have passed away from complications with the disease. As the day draws closer, we should take it upon ourselves to not only educate ourselves and others, but we should work toward a greater goal — working toward reducing the stigma that is associated with sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as AIDS. 

In the 1980s, “the attitude was, these (diseases) are only in [gay people] and IV drug users, underdogs, people who didn’t deserve any special attention,” Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist and virologist at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told CNN in 2011. It took years of work for the international community to begin to dismantle the stigmas that were associated

with HIV and AIDS. Why have we not began to do the same with other STIs? Why do we insist on making STIs the punchline of a joke, a threat or think that people with STIs are “dirty,” “less-than” or “easy?”

 In April of this year, it took the “woke” Twitter community less than an hour to begin to rip apart the apparent “herpes outbreak” at Coachella. You cannot just magically acquire the symptoms of herpes overnight — at a minimum it takes two days for the symptoms to appear, according to Planned Parenthood — but in many cases individuals will never experience symptoms in their lifetime. This generalization leads directly to the perpetuation of stigmas that bring about grave consequences for the affected community. There was no “herpes outbreak” at Coachella. There was merely an uptick in herpes related inquiries to the app, “HerpAlert,” which sensationalist outlets such as TMZ distorted and ran with to make a headline that would grab people’s attention. 

One in every two sexually active people will contract an STI before the age of 25, according to the American Sexual Health Association. Many people falsely believe that they will contract an STI by using public restrooms, breathing near infected persons or even by swimming in a public pool. Many others are under the foolish notion that “it could never happen to them.” Due to the asymptomatic nature of many STIs, many people will go about the rest of their lives without knowing that they are a carrier. STI rates are seemingly at an all time low because more individuals are getting tested, educating themselves and not keeping themselves in the dark. American artist Keith Haring painted it best: “IGNORANCE = FEAR.”

Most people fear what they don’t know. Misinformation is a culprit, and it is extremely damaging in ways beyond measure. This World AIDS Day is a time to reflect, inform and educate as a means to dismantle the stigmas and inherent sense of shame that surrounds those affected by STIs. Advocating for sexual health resources at Catholic universities is also a good place to start.