Mitchell Kapor once said “Getting information off the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant”. When you want to know more about a topic, there are so many user-friendly options. There was a time when sexually transmitted diseases were mysterious to the general public. People would discover something unusual on their body, get a diagnosis and medication from a physician, and then go home with just a pamphlet or two about their “disease”. There wasn’t much concern about whether or not the patient had follow up questions or wanted to talk to someone who had been through the same experience. Most of all, their diagnosis was kept uber quiet for fear of isolation.
Thanks to education, medical advances, and new media we no longer have to sit alone with our questions and fears. There are a plethora of mediums available to get more information. Most of it is free. All are easily accessible. And best of all it helps take the mystery out of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. Here are a few examples.
Once a person has sought live medical attention from a reputable physician, he or she can find out more about their condition and ways to stay healthy on their own. If you have been diagnosed with an STD, HIV or both there many, many web pages available to increase your understanding. Not only can you raise your consciousness but also you can help educate others who may not understand much about your disease (i.e. potential sex partners). TheBody.com is a prime resource for practically everything you want to know about HIV.
Need to know where to get an HIV test? Want to be updated on the latest info about prevention? People can now get the information they seek as close as their mobile device these days. Real Talk DC, a subsidiary of Metro Teen AIDS in DC, will help anyone find places to get tested and where to get free condoms through text messages if they text the word ‘Help’ to 61827.
When someone is facing an HIV or STD diagnosis, it can be pretty lonely in some places. The stigma of an STD creates silence among the general population. They may find themselves thinking ‘where are all the other people who have this disease?’ Social media helps people connect with one another and it has become the go-to space for people who are infected with an STD to "meet". PositiveSingles.com is one such website that helps people with similar STDs find love and companionship. It is the number one dating website for people with STDs. Using sites like Positive Singles can help alleviate the pressure of having "the talk" with a potential partner.
The age of the Internet has not only made information more accessible but also has made people’s thoughts more accessible. This kind of window helps people with STDs feel like they are not alone in their thoughts and emotions. It also helps professionals like counselors and psychologists develop ways to help people who need assistance with coping. Have you ever heard of Mark S. King? He is the creator of My Fabulous Disease, a blog and website devoted to his ups and downs with HIV, news, and advocacy.
A webinar is an internet-based conference that people attend from wherever they are. Anyone with access to technology can host these conferences to share information and gather ideas and feedback. Most of the time they are presented live and recorded simultaneously so that people who missed it can see it at their convenience. For people who are diagnosed with HIV or an STD and want to move into an advocate role, webinars are an excellent start. AIDS.gov has a list of notable webinars that help advocates, health care professionals, policy makers, and others get a better look at the disease from a more global perspective.
HIV and STDs no longer have to be explained on a generic tri-fold brochure. Any information one seeks can be made available and customized to suit their needs. Let’s use these avenues to tear down walls and build better lines of communication and understanding. Just another way to do away with stigma.