The Sociology of STIs, Stigma, and Disclosure

Stephanie Wilson

September 2020 | Edited September 2020
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How does sociology help us understand sexually transmitted infections, stigma, and disclosure and why does it matter?
I recently had the opportunity to provide a guest lecture for a friend and colleague for a Marriage and Family course in a sociology department.  The topic was sex and intimacy, and my colleague asked me to share a bit about my Master's research on genital herpes. 
As an applied sociologist, I feel it is always important to discuss the applicability of research findings. This particular research has important implication for sex education, and I wanted to make that clear for anyone watching this lecture. Of course, as academic research typically is, my work is based in theoretical arguments. But, that does not mean it has no direct application to the tangible world.
 
It is important to note the implications I discuss are informed by the many narrative-busters on social media that I have come across since my own diagnosis with genital herpes in 2014. These folks work tirelessly to redefine the narratives around STIs and diminish the stigma associated with them.
SexELDucation is one of those narrative-busters, whose cutting-edge content is on instagram. SexELDucation is run by Emily L. Depasse, a sexologist and graduate student in Human Sexuality. One narrative Emily is constantly working to change is the story that STIs can be completely avoided. Instead, she advocates for sex education that treats STIs as an inevitable part of being a sexually active adult. Ella Dawson is another narrative-buster who argues for a similar redefinition of the STI discourse in sex education and society more broadly.
The idea is that sex education teaches us how to avoid an STI diagnosis, rather than how to deal with such a diagnosis that is inevitable for the vast majority of sexually active adults. Peep the video linked here to learn more about the sociology behind this argument!

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