By Kevin R. Betts
“Don’t wait until you’re naked in bed with someone to tell them you have an STD.” This is legitimate advice from therapist and relationship expert Rachel A. Sussman, as quoted in a recent CNN health article. But as an uninfected individual, is this unfortunate scenario something that you need to be concerned about? Certainly an individual that you willingly become intimate with wouldn’t put you at risk without at least informing you. Right? Not necessarily.
Take HIV infection as an example. Fisher, Kohut, and Fisher (2009) point out that most research in the social sciences aimed at preventing the spread of HIV targets uninfected individuals. Meanwhile, research aimed at preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals remains scarce. Yet it is infected individuals that are the greatest threat to the spread of this disease. Fisher et al. (2009) argue that this inappropriate focus on the behaviors of uninfected individuals resulted from the well-intentioned efforts of researchers to avoid strengthening existing patterns of prejudice, fear of contagion, and blaming the victim. Although these intentions are admirable, they nonetheless have neglected to consider an important link in the chain of infection. Many infected individuals remain willing to hide information about HIV and other contagious diseases from their partner(s). Fisher et al. (2009) urge social scientists to refocus their efforts on preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals.
What should uninfected individuals take from this example? It is important that you speak with your partner(s) about sexually transmitted diseases. Although this discussion may be uncomfortable, it may also save you extensive physical and psychological distress down the line.
Fisher, W.A., Kohut, T., & Fisher, J. (2009). AIDS exceptionalism: On the social psychology of HIV prevention research. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 45-77.