STD Awareness: Stigma and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Stigma and disease have always gone hand in hand, with some diseases more stigmatized than others. Over the millennia, people living with diseases ranging from leprosy to AIDS have been burdened by moral judgments, while people with conditions like common colds or Alzheimer’s disease are seen as randomly — and innocently — afflicted.


Even the most “sex-positive” among us might find ourselves inadvertently stigmatizing others.


These days, stigma swirls around the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, arising from the fear and anxiety that has recently gripped the world. As reports of hate crimes against people of Asian descent show, some people are confusing vigilance about protecting public health with excuses to lash out at certain populations. This stigma can also show itself in seemingly benign comments, like apologizing for coughing and promising that it’s “only allergies” — which I have seen happen even in conversations taking place in “virtual spaces” like Zoom or Skype, where disease transmission wouldn’t have been possible. The idea is that a COVID-19 infection is shameful, while allergies are socially acceptable.

Probably no set of diseases is more stigmatized than sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — despite the fact that they’re also some of the most common infections across the spectrum of humanity. In fact, we’re in the midst of an STD epidemic, with tens of millions of cases every year in this country alone. Gynecologist Jen Gunter writes about how an STD diagnosis, like no other disease save cancer, has the unique power to bring a patient to tears. A common STD like herpes or genital warts can make someone feel like “damaged goods.” But clearly it’s not the virus itself that makes someone “damaged goods” — it’s the way it was transmitted. For proof, look at the way people react to infections caused by genetically related viruses, such as the herpesvirus that causes chickenpox or the strains of HPV that cause warts on someone’s fingers or toes.

Using Stigma to Punish

Even the most “sex-positive” among us might find ourselves inadvertently stigmatizing others when we talk about having a “clean” STD test or make people with herpes the butt of a joke. When we do that, we participate in a system that frames STDs as just punishments for engaging in the “wrong” kinds of sexual activities. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Sex Education: Planned Parenthood SHAREs

The following post comes to us via Tracey Sands, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s West Campus studying communication as it relates to advocacy. Tracey believes dialogue is an act of love and strives to empower others to find and use their voice. She is an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Growing up, I was under the impression that sex was making out naked. I thought condoms were only used for protection against pregnancy. I did not understand that sex was meant for my pleasure. I thought I was a bad person for masturbating. All of these misconceptions, and more, would have been answered if I had comprehensive sex education. If only my school understood that access to sexuality information and services does not lead to increased sexual activity or riskier behaviors. On the contrary, if sex education were provided, I would have understood the reproductive, physical, and emotional components of sex. And rather than feeling confused and unsafe, I could have been empowered with the information I needed to make healthy choices about my own body.


Finding reliable sex education resources that specifically speak to your needs can be a daunting task.


In Arizona, sex education is optional, which leaves our local schools to determine what, if any, sex education is taught in their classrooms. Schools either completely opt out of sex education, or if they choose to provide it, have the option to teach abstinence-only or comprehensive curricula. Unfortunately, more often than not, schools in our state choose to opt out. (Here is an updated list of sex education by state provided by the Guttmacher Institute.)

The other common choice Arizona schools make is to implement an abstinence-only curriculum. Abstinence-only programs not only remain ineffective at their goal of promoting abstinence until marriage, they also withhold potentially lifesaving information; promote dangerous gender stereotypes; stigmatize sex, sexual health and sexuality; and perpetuate systems of inequity. These curricula ignore or deny the sexuality of young people, which has real consequences. They often ignore the range of values, desires, and questions that teens have regarding sexuality in lieu of promoting one value system and one set of behaviors and the messaging consistently targets those that identify with the dominant culture (e.g., heterosexual, cisgender, white, Christian, without disabilities, etc.). In addition, the curriculum uses fear-based information that focuses on the imminent threats of STDs and pregnancy, while ignoring the preventive and empowering components of birth control and safe sex practices, including consent and healthy relationship building. Continue reading

Know Your Rights: Advocating for Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

It’s important that all young people have the information and resources they need to take care of their sexual and reproductive health. However, depending on the state you live in, you might encounter barriers in the form of laws and policies that affect your ability as a young person to access your sexual and reproductive rights. Through our work of providing sex education in various Arizona communities, we know many people aren’t fully clear on what their rights are when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — so consider this a quick crash course!


A critical step in protecting your sexual health is to understand your rights.


In terms of information about sexuality, there is no state law requiring sex education in schools. It is up to each school district to decide whether they provide sex education, and what type of curriculum they want to use if they do provide it. We know there are many districts across Arizona that have chosen not to offer sex education to their students or to provide limited information about sexuality (e.g., abstinence-only sex ed).

The lack of consistency around sex education is problematic because research shows that most youth and their families want their schools to offer comprehensive sex ed  — a holistic curriculum that covers topics like consent, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, abstinence, etc. Furthermore, when youth receive comprehensive sex ed, they are more likely to have healthy relationships and make choices that will reduce their likelihood of unintended pregnancies and STDs.

When it comes to accessing resources and services that help young people protect their health, there are a few laws in Arizona that are important to know about: Continue reading

The Fight for Equality and Inclusion in Sports Continues in Arizona

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, strategic relations officer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Sports can often teach character traits outside the classroom: good sportsmanship, being a gracious loser and a humble winner, and the importance of fairness and contributing to a team. Participating in sports can be a powerful way to hone physical agility, mental resiliency, and personal identity. For kids, it’s a way to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and the endless potential that can be unearthed when goal-focused individuals come together and execute a winning plan.


There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is a ‘T’!


Let’s acknowledge, too, that sports have often been divisive and disheartening. Black athletes across the board have generally had to break some form of “color barrier” in their respective sport. Women, too, have often been left on the sidelines. As athletes of color and women continue to navigate the racist and sexist systems in place, they slowly make progress toward equality.

The fight for equality often leaves the field for legal proceedings and public opinion. The clearest example of an actual struggle for progress in women’s sports is the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team’s legal fight to obtain equal pay and better working conditions. As our World Cup champions fight for fair compensation, a different inclusion barrier is being beaten down by another cadre of athletes: transgender athletes.

The unifying power of sport is lost on some, and now career politicians in Arizona are targeting children for political gain. Some would have you believe that women’s sports are vulnerable and need “saving” — not from inequity in pay or sexist stereotypes, but from transgender girls and women. Luckily for women’s sports, the savior they didn’t need or ask for, Rep. Nancy Barto, has come to the rescue with HB 2706, which only allows “biological girls” to participate on girls’ teams in interscholastic sports. Continue reading

You Are More Than Your Body: Eating Disorder Awareness Week

The following post comes to us via Tracey Sands, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s West Campus studying communication as it relates to advocacy. Tracey believes dialogue is an act of love and strives to empower others to find and use their voice. She is an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

The scale. The dinner plate. The mirror. The photos. All of these silent, inanimate objects are anything but silent when you have anorexia. The scale yells back saying, “You weigh too much.” The dinner plate taunts you, “I know you’re hungry, but you won’t eat me.” The mirror scoffs at the way you look, and the photos clap in support of the mirror’s disapproval. No matter what silent, inanimate objects are a signifier of an eating disorder, the eating disorder itself is constant and deafening. How do I know? Because what I described above happened to me.

My Story

Growing up I was a sassy and confident leader, both in school and sports; the first to raise my hand or reach out to a classmate, and the go-to person for team morale and strategic plays on the basketball court. Although this did not completely drift away, it was dulled at the beginning of 7th grade as I started to hate my body.


You are more than your eating disorder, you are more than your body.


Why did I hate my body? I honestly don’t know. I just did.

While no one knows for sure what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that they are influenced by a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

I developed an all-consuming anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder in which you restrict the amount of calories you consume and limit the types of food you eat, which led to detrimental weight loss. By completely restricting my diet and pushing my body and mind to their literal limits, I went from 125 pounds to 98 pounds in one year. As I lost weight, I lost my confidence, my strength, and my period, all occurring during the most pivotal time of growth, puberty. The physiological and emotional impediments put me in a dark, unhealthy place. Continue reading

ERA: A Personal Look Back

On a summer Saturday in 1978, it had been more than six years since the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress. Ratification by two-thirds of the states was stalled, three short of the 38-state goal. We needed to do something.

That night, I left my home in Cleveland, Ohio, aboard a red-eye bus for Washington, D.C. Sunday morning, the Capitol dawn broke into a bright, warm day. Pumped, together with my fellow career-woman friend — who certainly had a name, but, hey, it’s been more than 40 years and memory fails me — we tumbled off the bus to join the hordes of determined feminists, clad in white and converging on the Capitol to demand that three more states get off the dime and ratify the ERA. Here’s my dear, nameless friend, full of piss and vinegar.

National ERA March, July 9, 1978, Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anne Hopkins)

Our collective ask of the states was simple — add these words to our Constitution:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Continue reading

What’s the 411 on 2-1-1 Bills?

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, strategic relations officer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Hello, 911? I’d like to report a dumpster fire.

Anti-abortion politicians are at it again — this time targeting the 2-1-1 referral system as a pretext for charging the taxpayers $3 million to fund a pilot program to promote childbirth instead of abortion. The 2-1-1 system is a statewide information and referral network that has been in service since 1964, with more than 80% of calls regarding public utility inquiries.


A new funding bill for the 2-1-1 system is bloated with unnecessary abortion restrictions and charges taxpayers $3 million to promote childbirth.


2-1-1 Arizona is a private, nonprofit organization run by Crisis Response Network, Inc. Through their website, mobile app, and automated phone system, Arizonans can learn about important community services — resources that include assistance with housing, food, and bills; domestic violence; health, dental, and mental health care; services for disabled people and veterans; employment services; and more. Planned Parenthood is one of hundreds of resources listed under Health & Dental, and their inclusion in 2-1-1 Arizona’s listing helps connect patients to vital family planning, STD testing, and cancer screening services. A Google search shows there is no mention of the word abortion anywhere on 2-1-1 Arizona’s website. Continue reading