Dismantling Stigma: Routine STI Checks Matter : When it comes to achieving optimal health, most men aren’t likely familiar with all the tools at their disposal. However, from meal preps to stick to the latest diet, different sleep hacks to feel fresh every morning, tailored workout programs for that summer body, and science-backed supplements to fill in the gaps, men will seek every new hack that can take their health to the next level.
And when it comes to wellness, one of the remaining taboos that doesn’t get talked about enough is the reality of sexually transmitted infection (STI). From prevention, screening, and treatment options, many men seem to ignore just how prevalent STIs are in our lives whether we realize it or not.
Certain myths and stigmas surrounding routine STI testing have prevailed for far too long— a stigma stemming from centuries of shame that is rooted in outdated moral judgments and societal fears. These misconceptions not only hinder the adoption of routine testing and prevention practices, but they also impact the overall willingness of men to seek help when they sense something is wrong. The irony is that men will take great measures to maintain sexual attraction and optimize sexual performance, but pay little mind to STIs, or at the very least, feel it’s an issue that doesn’t affect them. However, if we want to promote a healthier and more responsible society, particularly for those who are sexually active, debunking these myths and undoing these stigmas is an absolute necessity.
The first harmful myth is the idea that contracting an STI makes someone “dirty,” “gross,” or “irresponsible.” However, the reality is that anyone who is sexually active, regardless of precautions taken, can be at risk. This means that no one, man or woman, should feel shame if they test positive for one. It holds no bearing on an individual’s moral character or lifestyle because one encounter is all it takes to acquire an infection, making regular testing a crucial aspect of responsible sexual health.
Another prevalent myth is the belief that routine testing isn’t necessary unless severe symptoms are present. This misconception ignores the fact that many infections may remain asymptomatic and present among sexually active adults. Additionally, men who notice certain symptoms might assume it’s no cause for concern and that it’ll go away on their own. However, ignoring these signs can lead to devastating consequences for your health.
The lack of STI screening in men also signals to a broader issue that men do not see their doctor enough in general. Many studies have routinely shown that women are far more likely to visit their primary care provider than men. Additionally, women are far better at maintaining screening and preventive care. There’s a false sense amongst men that seeing a doctor isn’t necessary unless one is feeling ill— a classic “I can take care of myself” mentality. Seeking help is internalized as a sign of weakness. That’s why I think the whole process needs to be reframed.
Men should view seeing their doctor in the same light as they view a coach. If men would reframe wellness checks such as physical exams, bloodwork, wellness panels, and STI screenings as a check-in with their coach who is only trying to help improve them, it would allow them to see diagnostics as another tool to optimize their health and well-being. This also requires additional support from doctors to consistently check in with their patients to keep them accountable.
We must create an environment where discussing STI testing is as natural as discussing other health screenings. Screening for STIs should be viewed as just another wellness check— a proactive step to ensure a healthy life and peace of mind. It merely reflects a responsible and proactive approach to self-care.
One barrier that both men and women face is lack of access to simple and efficient STI screening. The healthcare system needs to address the barriers that deter individuals from seeking testing in the first place. The current process is often lengthy and cumbersome, requiring long commutes, paperwork, and extended wait times that drag on. Even after you give your sample, patients are clueless as to when they will actually receive their results. Not only does this cause stress for patients awaiting the results, it also delays potential treatment for a positive infection.
If men seek treatment early for symptoms such as pain on urinating, or penile ulcers or discharge, this can dramatically reduce spread of disease. Treating them early lessens the prevalence of disease in society as well as their inevitable consequences. For Example, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility in women. However, men who have these STIs treated early, are less likely to pass them on to women. We need to standardize an STI testing system with same-day results. Fast, easy, and efficient diagnostics will encourage more frequent testing and earlier treatment availability.
Once STI diagnostics are simple, easy to do, and easily accessible, more people will partake and be open to disclosing their STI status to their partners before sex. By encouraging open conversations and empathy, we can create a more supportive and understanding environment around the topic of STIs and sexual health overall.
As a society, we must reject judgment and promote understanding when it comes to men’s sexual health. Only through education and compassionate support can we break down the barriers that prevent men from accessing STI testing. By embracing a culture of open communication and proactive health practices, we can empower men to take charge of their sexual well-being and foster a healthier future for all.
Rachael McCrary is the founder and CEO of Gather Labs, the first vertically-integrated, high-complexity CLIA laboratory to offer same-day lab results for over 100 diagnostics tests. A seasoned entrepreneur and innovator in the challenging fields of both technology and fashion, McCrary has harnessed her passion for creating practical products and solutions to fill the gaps in many core consumer experiences — from post-surgical recovery support to same-day lab result processing. She is a trusted startup advisor, mentor, board member, and executive who works closely with startup accelerators, investors, and private equity funds. McCrary also created the RxBra, an FDA-approved post-surgical compression bra that supports and accelerates patient recovery, and was the CEO and founder of Jewel Toned, the first contemporary shapewear collection designed for Millennials.
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