I was recently trying to decide whether abortions or STIs are more stigmatized in our society. Then I realized it doesn’t matter. What matters is the devastating effects stigmatization has on all people’s health and well-being. I will repeat: all people. Not only people who have had an abortion or who have, or have had, an STI. All people.
Because of the silence, shame and hushed voices around these topics, people do not get the education or support they deserve and need. Because of resistance to, and lack of sex education, people do not know how their bodies function, how pregnancy happens, how to prevent pregnancy, how STIs are contracted and how to protect themselves. And because no birth control method (other than abstinence) is 100 per cent effective and because there is safer, but not 100 per cent safe sex, even people with comprehensive sex education can get pregnant or contract an STI.
I have worked at Planned Parenthood for close to 10 years and I could have an unplanned pregnancy!
When we continually speak of topics in a negative way it leads people to feel shame, guilt, fear, anger and hatred. These emotions harm everyone due to their tendency to influence behaviour.
It is a popular misconception that only certain types of people have abortions or contract STIs. But people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, cultures and income levels have abortions. STIs do not care who a person is, how much money they make, or how many people they have slept with. When opportunity knocks, STIs answer.
Speaking about STIs and abortion in hurtful and negative ways is also harmful. You may not know your family member has an STI because they are too ashamed to tell you. You may not know your best friend had an abortion because they were fearful of your judgment. Even people in committed relationships sometimes hide or lie about this information with their partner, often due to fear and shame.
People do not realize how common STIs and abortions are because people feel they have to hide this information. When people have the courage to be open about their experiences they are often ridiculed, harassed and made to feel dirty, bad and evil. These negative reactions remind others to keep quiet, perpetuating the silence.
Most of us feel more confident when we feel good about our decisions and life choices, and most of us feel more liberated when we are able to share our feelings, experiences and concerns. Only by alleviating stigma will people be free to be their whole selves. Anyone out there thinking this does not apply to them better think again. It can happen to anyone. If not you, someone you care about. Stigma. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.