The STD Project: Speaking out about an issue with a stigma

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

Jennelle Marie
Jennelle Marie

SUMMARY: When most people test positive for a sexually transmitted disease, they do the exact opposite of what Jenelle Marie did. She started a website detailing her experiences and invited others to tell their own stories. Do you want to know what an STD test costs? Read on for what we learned, or…

 

 


The STD Project is a cornucopia of information, resources and support for people diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases. The site’s mission: erase the stigma of STDs so people can reclaim their lives.

Where can you get an STD test? There are a range of options here.

Marie knows about stigma. In high school, she received an abstinence-only version of sex-ed. She thought she was being responsible by using birth control. She said, “I thought I was making informed decisions when they weren’t informed at all.”

How health-care professionals behave: Not always well

She was diagnosed with the herpes simplex virus at 16. The story of her visit to the doctor, which is detailed on the site, is a study in what not to do as a health care professional.

Her family physician looked at the blisters and then looked at her with disgust. He told her to get dressed and left the room. When he returned, he said it was the worst case he’d ever seen and gave her a prescription. He never took a blood test to determine if it was herpes simplex 1 or 2 (HSV1 generally occurs orally while HSV2 is typically a genital condition, however the viruses occur in both locations).

“He never told me that lots of people with STDs go on to live happy, healthy and successful lives and it doesn’t have to be a character definer,” she said.

That was 14 years ago in western Michigan. But if the STD stories shared by readers are any indication, not much has changed in the last decade and half. Readers routinely report being shamed by doctors—the very people who should be helping them.

Doctors’ behavior is a reflection the cultural shame around STDs, said Marie. Even most gynecologists –professionals who deal with genitals on a daily basis—have only an overview of STDs.

“As humans, they are biased by cultural values unless they have an education that that strips the misconceptions. Stigma is part and parcel of the reason why prevention is unattainable,” she said. “It prevents people from being proactive and protecting themselves.”

Marie says she internalized that stigma for years. High school was excruciating. “Friends” told potential suitors about her status.

“They thought they needed to warn people that I would infect them. It was mortifying for quite a few years,” she said.

Even her church ostracized her–kicked her out and labeled her as a harlot. “I thought that it must mean I am a bad person and being punished by God,” she said.

Turning stigma into a paradigm shift

Over time the stigma faded. She went to college, got an MBA and had a successful accountancy career. She was socially active. She also says she has never had a relationship or a partner who refused her because of her infection.

She also noticed that whenever the subject of STDs came up, it was often to degrade someone’s character or make assumptions about their sexual behavior.

Eventually, she was ready for paradigm shift. Nothing like The STD Project existed when she was diagnosed, so she created it.

The site was launched in April 2012. Marie, now 30, has received mostly praise and thanks from readers. The site receives income from ad space, donations and speaking engagements. After funding it with her own resources, Marie reports the site has recently turned profitable.

In addition to her job as an adjunct professor of accountancy, she also hosts a radio show on sexual awareness at Michigan State University. She’s busy writing an e-book—a STD relationship survival guide.

She’s also a sought-after guest speaker. After a recent talk at the AIDS Home Care Foundation in Los Angeles, a woman came up to her and said, “You are saving lives.”

At the time, Marie dismissed the notion. But when she reflected back on her teen years, she remembered how many times she had contemplated taking her own life.

“It was easy to forget how lost I was and how far into a hole I was. Quite a few times–after my church ostracized me and sent me away—I actually did contemplate suicide. It was a continuous theme in my life at the time,” she said.

More than a year after the site’s launch, Marie reflects that its impact has been immeasurable, not only for readers, but also for her.

“I had no idea how much healing I still had left to do and how healing and healthful it would be to me and put it out there and let go and take the power back.”

Questions you can ask a clinic

We don’t give medical advice but we can offer a few tips.

With any testing option, do your homework and shop around. Be careful of what you’re buying and who you’re buying it from. We’ve learned that it pays to find out what specific STD you’ve been exposed to, if you can, and to make a few phone calls to clinics.

When you call a clinic, you can:

• Ask to speak to a counselor.

• Ask: How much does each test cost individually?

• Ask: How much for a complete set of tests?

• Ask: How much will this cost? How much will it cost me?

• Ask: Is a complete set of tests necessary, if I know what STD I was exposed to?

• Ask: Who will be seeing me? What are his/her credentials?.

• Ask: Will I have another checkup to be sure that I’m completely healthy?

These questions can help you save money and settle your mind.

And as for prices: 

Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the New York area. Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Los Angeles area.

Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Houston area. Here’s a list of STD testing prices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

For other cities, use our search box and the search “STD test.”