April is STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) Awareness Month, as you might have guessed by the influx of awareness campaigns. These important public health crusades draw attention to STDs and STIs, but they also leave out a crucial population: The people who already have them.
One in five Americans have genital herpes. Think about that — in a room of 25 people, five of them will have herpes. And yet for most people, publicly declaring "I have an STI," seems terrifying.
A group of STI-positive women are trying to change that. Writer and social media maven Ella Dawson, along with social work student Kayla Axelrod, freelance writer Britni de la Cretaz, and writer/activist Lachrista Greco started the hashtag #ShoutYourStatus to destigmatize STIs. Their goal is to promote a more open conversation about living with STIs.
"It's important to take back the STI-shaming narrative, and instead, infuse it with facts and compassion," Greco told Revelist.
Dawson was diagnosed with herpes in May 2013, and immediately told her family, close friends and sexual partners. Over the next few months, she shared her diagnosis with classmates as well. She found that people were more curious than judgmental, and were excited to talk with someone who openly shared their experience.
While she received positive responses, she still felt the effects of society's STI stigma. She wrote on her blog about the shame she felt walking by public health posters with messages like, “Love: It’s more beautiful without a herpes outbreak.”
“So much of STI Awareness Month has focused on alarming statistics about the prevalence of STIs and fear-mongering discussion of symptoms,” Dawson told Revelist. “Meanwhile, the millions of us who live with STIs aren't a part of that conversation.”
So she and her proudly-positive friends inserted themselves into that conversation, using #ShoutYourStatus. They encourage others with STIs to proudly declare their status, in whatever way they feel comfortable. And they want the world to know that STI awareness isn’t just about wearing condoms — it’s about acknowledging and accepting those with STIs.
“The truth of the matter is, many people are living, and living happily, as STI+ people,” de la Cretaz told Revelist. “Being able to be publicly open about my status as someone with genital herpes is a privilege and I want to use that privilege to help other people feel less alone."
Check out tweets from some of the brave individuals fighting STI stigma and shouting their status, below.