The online dating world for most is overwhelming when it comes to options, but if you have a sexually transmitted infection or disease, the pool can seem a lot smaller.
Jenelle Marie Pierce, founder and executive director of The STD Project, a site that raises awareness around stigmas of STDs and STIs, says the ongoing slight against people with STIs exists because of the labels.
“People feel like the folks who have STIs or STDs are trashy, promiscuous or cheaters,” she tells Global News. “These are all dirty words, but in reality, anyone can contract and STI and all kinds of people do.”
Most people are introduced to these infections and diseases as a consequence of having unprotected sex or having multiple partners, Pierce says, and this further adds to the stigma. Additionally, the confusion around these infections and the fact that they sometimes don’t exhibit any symptoms, further besmirches the people who have them.
In fact, as sexual health blog Exposed notes, the term STD is used less often, and STI is preferred, because the word “disease” has too many negative connotations. On top of this, some people just have infections and not diseases.
“STDs have been around forever — think back to junior high health classes. But the phrase ‘STI’ doesn’t yet have the same negative connotation attached to it, so doctors and health advisers are more than happy to refer to them as infections rather than diseases,” the site adds.
Below, Pierce gives tips on how to navigate the dating world with an STI.
#1 Educate yourself
Pierce says for starters, anyone with the disease or infection should know exactly what they have. “Nobody is a better advocate than you,” she says. “Part of being your own advocate means seeking out that information, finding as many resources as you can, and learning about where the stigmas come from.”
#2 Try STI-friendly sites
There are several dating sites and apps out there that cater to people with STIs and STDs, Pierce says. Positive Singles is for people with herpes and STDs, MPWH is for people with herpes, and Hift is for those with herpes, HPV, and HIV/AIDS. This is a good first step to find people who have gone through the same experience, she says.
#3 Don’t limit yourself
The more popular online dating apps, like Bumble, Tinder or Coffee Meets Bagel, aren’t off limits, either. In turn, someone with an STI could meet someone without an infection, but who is open to the idea of being with someone who does. In this situation, education is key, she says, and you have to be direct and confident to bring up the conversation as it comes.
#4 Be direct in your profile (sort of)
Pierce says sometimes when people with STIs go on popular dating apps, they’ll add a series of numbers to their profile page or username that indicates they have an infection.
“It’s a low-key way to say I am STI-positive,” she says.
This, of course, is something only people with that STI would know. For example, herpes is 437737.
However, if you choose to go this route and meet someone who doesn’t have an STI or understand what the numbers mean, make sure you’re clear and honest about your infection.
#5 Or just add it to your profile
Sometimes, people just don’t want to waste time or have the conversation, and this is totally fine, Pierce adds. If you want people to know you are STI- or STD-positive, add it your profile page to weed out people who consider it a deal breaker.
#6 Have the conversation organically
This is different for every dater, Pierce says. Some people like to take it slow and get to know someone before telling them about their infection. Pierce says it is OK to get to know someone first and reveal the STI after the first interaction. However, if sex is involved, again, you need to be direct.
#7 Worried about that conversation? Practice
Bringing up your infection is never a simple topic of discussion, and it’s natural to fear rejection. If you are having trouble bringing up the conversation, practice before hand. Talk about what your STI means, what your worries are and what you think of the dating experience with this person so far. If you’re on the receiving end of the conversation, be patient and willing to listen — this isn’t an easy subject to talk about.
“And if you do experience rejection, let it roll off your shoulder,” Pierce says. “There are so many other fish in the sea.”