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February 28, 2008

Dating while positive

Filed under: News — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:00 am

Here at BreakupGirl.net, we talk a lot about the challenges of finding love when you are shy, when you have low self-esteem, when you don’t look like society’s ideal single, when you live in a small town, when you’re spinning your wheels in a romance rut. But what about finding — and keeping — love when you know that at some dreaded point, just when things were going so awesome, you’re going to have to say, “There’s something I have to tell you”?

At this point, the news that anyone has a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) should not be a shocker. STIs are, in fact, shockingly common. (At least half of sexually active men and women get HPV at some point in their lives, for example.) Yet matter how “out” people are these days about Asperger’s or therapy or whatever they take to help them sleep, the stigma against STIs — and the 19 million people who have them — remains as virulent and pervasive as the infections themselves. They are, after all, about sex — stereotypically, about casual, anonymous, unprotected sex; about (also stereotypically!) skeevy sores where the sun don’t shine. Just look at the vernacular: people who say they’ve tested negative for STIs commonly call themselves “clean.” Opposite: “dirty.” Carriers of STIs: they’re seen (WRONGLY, let’s be clear) as slutty, stupid, damaged goods. (This despite the facts: you can, of course, get infected from your first and only partner; condoms may not provide 100% protection.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place, a magical place, where people with STIs never had to have The Talk? Where they could make friends — even find lovers — knowing that no one would judge them, never mind dump them, over a stroke of bum luck and the occasional cold sore?

There are, as it turns out, many such places. As my journalist alter ego writes in the current Nerve.com:

…[D]ating websites for people with the same STI seem like a natural niche: PositiveSingles.com, H-Date.com, VDdate.com, and the genre’s warhorse, MPwH.net (Meet People with Herpes), which was founded in 1997 and has more than 70,000 active members. Newcomer PositiveFriends.com has a photo-editing application that allows you to include a photo while obscuring your identity, zooming in on just your tattoo or your eyes. Another new site, VDdate.com, feels a bit rickety with outdated terminology like “venereal disease,” but its presence reinforces the point: many STI sufferers are opting out of the general singles population and sticking to their own private dating pool.

Or ghetto, depending on who you’re talking to. “Creating specific internet [dating] sites for persons with STDs tends to perpetuate stigma by separating them from the general population,” says Jeffrey D. Klausner, M.D., M.P.H., director of STD Prevention and Control Services at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “This isolation suggests that those persons are different and not normal, requiring exceptional means to meet other partners.”

That is the question: do these sites liberate — or quarantine?

…[W]hile the appeal and intended benefit of these sites is clear, some in the field have voiced concerns about unintended side effects. Could that “home” also be a velvet prison, even a quarantine of sorts? Do dating services for people with STIs imply both to members and passersby — if inadvertently, and only at first glance — that people with STIs should date only amongst themselves, or at least that that is their lot? Might they in some way serve to perpetuate the very stigma from which they offer shelter? Are they creating an underclass of sexual untouchables?

We want to hear your thoughts, of course. (No fair commenting until you’ve read the entire piece, which many possible answers to that question in — if Lynn says so herself! — a thorough and balanced manner.) At very least, perhaps it’ll help prepare you to have The Talk — or, maybe even better, to hear it.

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