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Dating With STDs Is Hard, But Technology Can Reduce Stigma

People sitting around computer.
Brooke Cagle at Unsplash

Sexually transmitted diseases nationwide have risen to a record high for the fifth consecutive year, and for those with STDs, dating and disclosure of their health status can pose additional challenges. KUNR’s Anh Gray has been reporting on this issue. Today she explores how technology can help with overcoming some of the stigmas.

Dating apps are now a common way for people to meet other people, and there are a variety of niche sites that cater to different interests, like Farmers Only or Silver Singles.

Jennifer Howell is a sexual health expert with the Washoe County Health District. She says dating sites for people with STDs can help break down barriers.

“I think because there’s so much stigma, even internalized, when a person has an STD," Howell explained, "I think they feel like, 'No one else is ever going to like me again. If I tell them, they’re not going to understand; they’re going to think I’m dirty.’"

Jenelle Marie Pierce is a spokesperson for the dating site Positive Singles, which has more than 1.5 million members nationwide. Users self-report, and their most common conditions are long-term STD infections, like herpes or HIV.

Pierce says the site isn’t designed to keep people limited to one dating pool, but it creates a safe springboard for disclosure.

“It builds intimacy and it starts that conversation," Pierce said. "It gets the ball rolling when you’re talking about stuff that is a little bit uncomfortable [or] quite a bit taboo.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nationwide, people with an STD are at an increased risk of getting HIV. Researchers find that behaviors that put someone at risk for one infection can put them at risk for others.

That’s why Howell, with the health district, says learning to have an open dialogue is key to prevention because personal encounters can also occur outside of dating sites where disclosure is up front.

“What if you meet somebody at the grocery store and then that safe haven is taken away, but you really liked this person and then you want to disclose to them," Howell said, "You’d have to, you know, have the skillset to be able to do that.”

Newly released data from the CDC show that, nationwide, there were more than 2.4 million cases of three STDs combined: chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Nevada is ranked first in the nation for the rate of primary and secondary syphilis.

Anh is a contributing editor for the KUNR news team and has been with the station since 2014. She is an alumna of the Boston University School of Public Health and Teachers College, Columbia University.
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