Last Updated on July 29, 2021 by Nancy Carteron, MD, FACR
STI/STDs and Relationships
You mean to say, they can coincide harmoniously?! Yes.
Lately, I’ve had quite a few discussions about the topic of telling one’s parents or extended families about their STI/STD and how to deal with any adverse or unanticipated reactions.
Starting this series months ago, I had nearly forgotten that I hadn’t finished it until I’ve recently had my own, let’s say, interesting experience with my family. So, now I feel better prepared to tackle this subject while also shedding some light on the myriad of possible responses you’ll receive when sharing your story with a family member (or anyone else, for that matter).
Family is the part of your support system, or maybe the lack thereof, for some people, whom you have no control over – you can pick your friends, you can pick your partner(s), but you certainly cannot pick your family.
That being said, a family’s reaction to your STI/STD, should you choose to tell them, isn’t always horrible and even when it is, can be incredibly helpful when it comes to healing emotionally through an understanding of others’ reactions.
One reaction I’ve experienced recently which I’m personally not a fan of is the “poor poor you” response.
That response has come from family members only, and it seems friends are less inclined to hand out the pity card (sympathy and empathy’s an entirely different thing, of course), as my friends see me more clearly and understand that there’s no real reason to feel sorry for me. That’s not because they think I am reaping what I sow or that I deserve to have an STI; rather, they recognize that I’m strong, happy, and otherwise, no longer horribly affected by my STI/STD.
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So, there’s no real reason to feel sorry for me. It’s just something I deal with occasionally, and for the most part, it has not inhibited anything in my life.
That I don’t favor that type of reaction may be confusing to some, I’m sure, as it would seem like the “poor poor you/you poor thing” perspective would be a much more welcomed reaction than, “You’re a damned whore, and you deserve it,” right!? For me, though, that’s just not the case.
Feeling sorry for me indicates the person sees having an STI/STD as a terrible thing, something no one should have to endure, something that will affect my life forever, and/or will possibly limit my future. It means they believe the stigma that surrounds STIs and they likely have no idea how common it is to have an STI, how mild they can be, or how little they make a difference in most people’s lives.
If you disagree with my assessment, don’t let it take you aback entirely.
I completely understand the pity-infused reaction I’ve received from family members first requires a person to have some caring for the other… I’m just not a big fan of it, and I am not a big supporter of people feeling sorry for themselves either – at least not for any length of time anyways (we all have our sad moments, and those are totally ok).
Rather, I want to see people empowered, educated, fearless, and living their lives without apologies or self-deprecation. A reaction centered around pity doesn’t do a lot to get someone there.
You’re a Whore/Sinner/Got What You Deserved/Etc.
To me, the extreme and/or name-calling responses are the most entertaining (mind you, I’ve had an STI and have contracted others along the way for the last 15 years, so I’ve had a lot of time to work these things out). Those reactions are the easiest for me to understand and/or combat.
Nonetheless, they are going to be the hardest for most people to weather – especially early-on and/or if that are coming from one’s family. How hard those kinds of responses can hit is not at all lost on me, just to be clear – quite frankly, I recently received a similarly pathetic and knee-jerk response from a close family member (the first of that type from anyone in quite some time), and it was still jarring.
In truth, those kinds of reactions are one of the main reasons I launched The STI Project – so people don’t have to face the insensitive feedback alone.
As an eternal optimist, though, I implore you to take a page out of my book of STI/STD hard-knocks and let those types of reactions, from your family members especially, roll off of your shoulders – at least, initially. If you’d like to help curb their opinion, facts and statistics are great for that.
Coming from a family member, that is especially hard to do, so, I think it helps to understand why they are reacting so adversely.
Most people are incredibly afraid of what they don’t know and don’t understand. Simultaneously, religious, cultural, and media influences encourage them to react negatively, and then they form an uneducated opinion. Simply, those reactions come from people who know very little about STIs/STDs.
Albeit, a strong reaction such as theirs will take time to evolve, in the meantime, you can reassure yourself that their opinion is unwarranted (no matter how much you are temporarily feeling similarly about yourself), and it is much more a reflection of their fear and lack of knowledge than an indicator of anything you did or any treatment you deserve.
The best response and the one I wish for all people is a genuine concern for your health and happiness and/or an overall nonplussed unconditional love kind of approach.
I’ve placed those two in one category, because, from what I’ve seen, they usually occur together and are the most welcomed of possible reactions.
It’s true and very likely that whomever you tell will know very little about your STI/STD, what the implications are for your future, or how it will affect your health and longevity. Yet, when those family members do react, it will be with open minds and open hearts.
I was blessed to have that sort of reaction from my parents – not everyone is that lucky – but I am telling you this now, because it is definitely possible. If not from your caregivers, it is possible from extended family and friends as well.
So, do your best not to embrace any of the miserable reactions you hear. Instead, know it’s quite possible for someone to be concerned in a constructive way, to want to learn more, and to choose to love you despite the inaccurate information they’ve heard in the media or otherwise about sex and STIs/STDs.
Lastly, remember, it’s also quite possible for those incredibly crappy responses to leap into this positive category over time.
It’s amazing how minds change and become more permeable when faced with an issue inside of a family’s walls – generally, it just takes time.
When this does happen, do your best to be as gracious as possible, as it’s likely you too once believed some of the same things they did (I did too)…
- Part 1 of: STIs/STDs and Relationships – The STI Project’s Guidebook – Friends
- Part 3 of: STIs/STDs and Relationships – The STI Project’s Guidebook – Partners
- How to Not Give an Eff about Having an STI
- All about Herpes Disclosure
- STI/STD Stigma
- When Do You Have to Tell Someone You Have an STI
- How To Tell Someone You Have an STI/STD
- A Healthy Helping of STD Hater-Aid
- Anger and The Person Who Gave Me Genital Herpes/Scabies
- STI/STD Stigma
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