Online STD Communication and Weakening the Stigma

Penelope James Health Guide
  • I want to add my own thoughts about inSPOT, the website that allows you to notify an ex-lover that he/she may have an STD, and elaborate on what healthgal wrote about a few days ago.  After hearing about this service through its recent media buzz, I was instantly intrigued.  I think it's a great idea to give people another means of telling their ex-partners whom they otherwise may not contact.  In addition, when a recipient clicks on the email postcard, he/she is immediately taken to a website full of information about STDs and resources for getting tested.  This is a very intelligent touch to the site and concept as a whole.  Another reason I think inSPOT may be useful, besides getting more people tested and aware about STDs, is that if more people send responsible emails like this, which are also light and funny, we may begin to start breaking down the stigma around STDs.  People may start to see that STDs are common and, though we should still make an effort to not transmit them, we also don't need to ostracize or demonize those who have them. 

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    I'm sure many readers out there have felt the stigma of having an STD.  That's why it's so hard for us to tell new partners, and why herpes is known in the medical community as an emotionally draining disease, even though it’s not fatal.  I'm sure we've all heard judgmental remarks about herpes on TV and in social situations.   It's often used as the butt of a joke or as the predictable outcome of someone’s promiscuous behavior.  Typically these jokes are followed by the assurance that the speaker him/herself does not have herpes (thank you very much).  Oh, people love to point out how much better they are because they are "clean" (or so they think). 


    I decided to take inSPOT for a test drive, and see how exactly it functions.  Because there is no one I can think of who needs to receive a card from me, I sent myself one.  The cards are all clever, funny, aesthetically pleasing, and succinct.  Just how they should be.  After I made my choice of card design (the one with the sexy man's chest on it, of course) I was taken to another page where I could fill in the information and even customize the card.  I was surprised to see that the drop-down menu for "Choose your STD" included STDs I had never heard of, like Shigella and Molluscum Contagiosum, but didn't have herpes, genital warts, or HIV.  Huh?  Are the latter diseases considered too heavy to carry on a virtual STD greeting card...even by this company?  I just don't get it.  Those are some of the most common and detrimental diseases, why wouldn't they be included in the list?  This is discrimination.  If I want to customize my STD e-card for herpes, then why shouldn’t I should be able to?!  Perhaps the STD community hasn't evolved as much as I thought.


    Otherwise the rest of the site is pretty smooth.  You have the option of sending the card anonymously or with your name attached.  You can send it to up to 6 (ex-) partners at a time.  I wouldn't use this service for current lovers, as I think a personal conversation is better, but I would use it for past lovers if I happen to have the misfortune of catching another STD.


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    Of course there are some potential problems with this idea.  One is that if the email is sent anonymously, it may look like spam and be immediately deleted by the recipient.  Or if the email is opened, it may be seen as a joke or someone trying to get revenge.  Which brings me to probably the biggest potential problem, which is, embittered lovers may use the email service as a way of getting revenge by causing drama in their ex's lives.  However, it seems like the number of people who abuse this service is much less than those who legitimately use it.  I hope this means we are on a path towards spreading knowledge and awareness about STDs, and eventually eliminating the fear and stigma that surrounds them. 

Published On: October 25, 2008