Shame and STIs: An Exploration of Emerging Adult Students' Felt Shame and Stigma towards Getting Tested for and Disclosing Sexually Transmitted Infections

Emily Scheinfeld, Kennesaw State University


Emerging adulthood is identified as a time of identity exploration, during which emerging adults (EAs) may engage in sexual exploration and risky behaviors, potentially resulting in the contraction of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Many EAs, do not disclose their status to partners or those who can provide social support, like parents. Nor do they often get tested. This may be due to the changing status of stigma surrounding STIs. This study examines traditional measures of the stigma/shame of STI diagnoses, treatment, and testing, and their relevance alongside both increased opportunities for casual sex and not only heightened education surrounding STIs, but also heightened prevalence of STIs in the U.S. Results show EAs perceived that if their community found out they got tested, they would likely be treated differently. They also felt they would be uncomfortable disclosing an STI to parents as well as to sexual partners. However, disclosing to a monogamous partner yielded less felt shame and stigma by EAs. Lastly, stigma/shame was associated with STI communication, as well as with overall perception of STI knowledge, and getting tested. Further explanation of the results and possible implications of this study are discussed.