Background: Social stigmatization of STDs and those who have them creates misconceptions (educational disparities, myths), fear (fear of infection, social repercussions, sexual rejection), and trauma (PTSD, depression, anxiety, isolation), which hinders prevention efforts and expedites the spread of STDs. Current technologies such as smart phone applications, partner notification systems, and social networks designed around sexual health cannot successfully reduce STD transmission rates without also addressing the underlying cause: stigma.
Methods: The STD Project (thestdproject.com) uses online storytelling - anonymous submissions - to erode STD stigma by advocating for awareness, education, and acceptance. In this medium, mindful conversations around STD prevention, risk, and transmission occur amidst an authentic backdrop of personal experiences which helps those seeking practical advice, resources, and tools to become sexually empowered without being influenced by misconceptions and stigma.
Results: Demographically, youth aged 15-25 are most adversely affected by STDs, and they are, by design, The STD Project’s largest population of visitors (accounting for 47% of our 190,000 views per month). Readers submit personal stories and engage via the forum or contact form. Of those infected and participating online, the vast majority (over 95%) have been adversely affected - depression, anxiety, fear of rejection, or isolation - by STD stigma. A large number (80%) have not disclosed their status to past partners. All participants have improved (psychological improvements, safer sex practices and partner disclosure) after engaging with The STD Project.
Conclusions: When stigma and the associated trauma of being diagnosed with an STD are addressed via storytelling, prevention is possible, because those who are uninfected are effectively educated, those infected begin to heal psychologically, and both are interested in becoming sexually responsible.