April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month. STDs, sometimes called sexually transmitted infections (STI), are incredibly common worldwide. STDs remain a significant public health concern due to their prevalence. Without proper treatment, many STDs can lead to health complications such as loss of fertility, transmission from mother to baby, certain cancers, and even death.
The World Health Organization reports that more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections are acquired every day. In Canada, STD rates are on the rise. Diagnosis of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia have been increasing for over a decade, particularly among people under 30 years old. In 2020, an estimated 1,520 Canadians contracted HIV, a viral STD. HIV prevalence is also increasing among people who use injectable drugs.
While many STDs are easily detected and treated, social stigmas may make patients and healthcare providers reluctant to discuss them. Many patients have not received extensive sexual health education and do not understand their risk of contracting an STD. They may be concerned about confidentiality or being judged for their sexual activity if they seek treatment. Providers may lack proper context about their patients’ lifestyles, risk factors, and understanding of sexual health, leading them to refrain from engaging in important conversations about sexual health.
STD Stigma Reduction
Experts suggest that healthcare providers should take a proactive approach to de-stigmatizing STDs. Initiating discussions about STDs can help patients understand their risks and access appropriate testing and treatment. It also allows providers to present science-based safe sex information.
A 2021 study suggests taking a culturally sensitive approach to conversations about STDs in the healthcare setting. Providers should aim to have conversations that are person-centered, sex-positive, and trauma-informed.
- Person-centered: A person-centered approach encourages open and non-judgmental communication between patients and providers. The provider should respect the individuality, autonomy, and dignity of the people who are seeking STD education or treatment.
- Sex-positive: Sex positivity refers to an approach in which providers acknowledge sexual diversity without shame. Providers should recognize sexuality as an asset and sexual behaviour as human behaviour that contributes to health and well-being. Sex-positive conversations can reduce misconceptions about sex and improve sexual health practices.
- Trauma-informed: Sexual traumas are caused by inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual assault or violence. Patients may be harbouring negative feelings about sex, their bodies, or their sexuality because of their past experiences. Providers should have a deep understanding of the role trauma plays in conversations around STDs.
Providers play a key role in increasing inclusivity and reducing the stigma surrounding STDs. By implementing a person-centered, sex-positive, and trauma-informed approach to conversations around STDS, providers are able to give better sexual health services and influence people to take control of their sexual health.
Stay Informed With MDBriefCase
Understanding the social stigmas around STDs, staying informed about sexual health trends, and knowing the best practices for approaching conversations on sexual health is critical to providing excellent care. To learn more about sexual health and other health topics, explore our many related courses and join the MDBriefCase community to stay current on guidelines.