Why Don’t Romance Characters Ever Have STIs?

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K.A. Berg's Thank You, Chlamydia just may change romance.

STIs Remain A Taboo In Romance

When, a few weeks ago, I happened across K.A. Berg's Thank You, Chlamydia, I found myself taken aback. Not because the novel clearly involved an STI but because I couldn't ever remember reading about a romance character with an STI.

Sure, romance novels are a form of escapism, but they also feature real-world problems and experiences. There are romances that delve into racism, homophobia, and sexism, along with other issues like unplanned pregnancies and grief, things that are facts of life. So why aren't writers including characters with STIs?

STIs Are Common, But Remain Rare In Romance

Unfortunately, modern day society continues to stigmatize STIs and the people who have them. People with STIs are often negatively judged for their lifestyle and their decisions because of a simple health diagnosis. This is especially true for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.

Whether someone gets an STI because of a broken condom, unprotected sex, or sexual assault, there is no reason for judgement. That's the last thing someone with an STI needs, especially considering just how common STIs are. Up to 80 percent of people will get HPV throughout their lifetime and half of people will get an STI before age 25. An STI diagnosis has even caused some folks to develop depression.

What's With The STI Stigma In Romance?

While I was scouring the internet for romance books that feature STIs, many of the few I did find made me cringe.

STIs were used to punish cheaters. Heroes would discover they had an STI or would formerly have an STI to show they had a promiscuous past. The most cringeworthy of all were the books that would have the hero discovering they had an STI thanks to a cheating ex-girlfriend. Not only is the trope sexist, but it's used to demonize the ex and show the book's heroine isn't like other girls. Ugh.

Many commenters on a Smart Bitches, Trashy Books titled "Taboos, Heroes, Heroines, and 'Social Diseases'" didn't think an STI storyline belonged in romance or were turned off by the idea.

Most of the more honest and less stigmatizing romances I came across were in gay romances with HIV positive characters. I wasn't really surprised to find that gay romances were the most progressive when it came to STI stigma.

Given how common STIs are, it seems likely that stigma will lessen over time. Hopefully then, novelists will start writing more honest portrayals of STIs in romance. They may not be particularly sexy, but STIs are a fact of life. Perhaps more writers will take a page from K.A. Berg's book and choose to portray STIs as something that can happen to anyone, rather than as a punishment. I'm hopeful.

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