In my quest to transform shame into self-love, both personally and collectively, I feel especially compelled to shine a light on sexual shame and to illuminate pathways of healing and transformation in this area. One of the most stigmatized and shameful experiences in the realm of sexuality is related to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Although millions of people contract STIs each year, it is something that is rarely talked about because of the way that shame creates a breeding ground for silence.
Although many individuals are asymptomatic, and therefore don’t know they have an STI, most people do experience an STI at some point in their lives. Let’s look at some facts. About 80% of sexually active people contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Approximately 1 in 5 people have Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) and about 70% of people have Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2). Other STIs, like Chlamydia, Hepatitis, and Gonorrhea are very common as well.
Considering how common STIs are, it’s interesting and telling how infrequently there are open and honest conversations on this topic, both within our homes and in the larger community. Shame, accompanied by its good friends — fear and self-judgment — often slam the door shut on authentic, vulnerable dialogue, which eliminates the possibility for healing and transformation and leads to more of the same. Shame, silence, self-judgment…repeat.
So how can we keep this door to our hearts open to create possibilities for healing? First, it’s helpful to challenge the fear-based belief systems and misguided social norms that perpetuate sexual shame in all its forms. The reason there is so much stigma attached to STIs is directly correlated with the sex-negative teachings we have received (by copious sources) through our lifetime, often starting at a very young age. To varying degrees, we’ve been taught that sex is taboo, dirty, and something to keep quiet about, but nothing could be further from the truth!
Sexual energy is the creative life force, which is the presence that sustains life on this planet. Since our sexuality is such a core and vital part of who we are as humans, the more curiosity, positivity, and acceptance we can cultivate in this area, the more alive and vibrant we will feel. This includes reimagining possibilities for how to understand and relate to STIs and to our sexuality overall. Instead of thinking that STIs are shameful, remember that this is merely a false belief that is the result of some very powerful and long-standing belief systems about sexuality that are rooted in fear.
The truth is that the presence of an infection does not have an impact on your worth or lovability. A good way to feel this truth is to notice what comes up when you think about chicken pox, shingles, and mono. Now notice what comes up when you think about genital herpes (HSV-2). All of these infections come from the same family of viruses, yet the former don’t carry any shame because they are not contracted through sexual activity. This is a good example of how limiting, shame-based beliefs about sex impact the way we experience and understand STIs. Whether we have chicken pox or HSV, we are wholly, completely, and irreversibly lovable — no infection can change that.
It’s also helpful to remember the truth that you are not alone, as most people will have an STI in their lifetime. The main reason people may feel alone in their experience of having an STI is because of the way shame keeps people quiet. Since silence perpetuates shame, another great way to create space for compassion, acceptance and liberation around the experience of STIs is to connect with people who you trust to talk openly about your experience. Sharing authentically about your challenges, fears, frustrations, and any other aspects of your experience with STIs with a trusted other, and to feel accepted and supported in that space is powerful medicine for transforming shame.
Lastly, it is important to learn the facts about STIs. Educating yourself about sexual health can help to transmute shame by dispelling some of the myths about STIs. It can also empower you to make wise and informed decisions that come from a place of self-love with regard to the way that you share sexual energy with others. A good resource to learn sex-positive information about STIs is www.thestdproject.com. This website is full of knowledge and also offers some
great suggestions about how to tell someone that you have an STI.
Each time we are able to challenge sex-negative messages and belief systems, embrace the gift of our sexuality, and share openly with trusted others about anything we feel ashamed about, we transform shame into self-love and raise the consciousness around sexuality, both individually and collectively. Remember that any work you do to transform shame is work that you do for us all. Thank you!
With love & gratitude ~ Erin Stohl