Racism is Shameful. Sex Isn’t.

This article is crossposted with permission from Womenstake.

There was an interesting item in the New York Times last week that didn’t get much coverage. As compared to white women, Hispanic women are fifteen times more likely to receive a test for chlamydia, the most common sexually transmitted infection. Black women are three more times likely to receive a test. As reported in the prestigious, peer-reviewed Journal of Duh, the chlamydia rates for Black and Hispanic are off the charts as compared to white women.

Dare I say the racial differences in STI testing is due to doctors’ racial prejudices about the sexual behaviors of Women of Color? Yes, I dare say. And someone who holds the prejudiced belief that People of Color are “promiscuous” (I put it in quotes because it’s a word I would never use) might see the stats and have his or her own biases confirmed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines say every sexually active woman under 25 should receive a test every year. Increased testing will likely reveal less of a racial disparity in STI rates, while at the same time exposing our failure as a nation to give individuals the education, tools, and environment required for healthy, empowered sexuality, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Unfortunately, our national hang-up about all things having to do with sex is doing a great disservice to white women. According to the Times, “the authors say the stigma attached to a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia may make clinicians less likely to test white women.”  Chlamydia has no symptoms, so untested equals untreated, and untreated chlamydia can cause infertility.

Racism is shameful, but sex isn’t.  

Regardless of race, the prescription for healthy sexuality is the same:

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  • ferret52

    Is the higher rate of testing minority women racist? Maybe…but incidence rates of chlamydia actually are higher among minority women, so there is some scientific basis for increased surveillance of minority patients.

    As a white women who was rendered infertile by PID most likely caused by untreated chlamydia, I have to say I wish doctors had screened me routinely when I was young and being exposed to STDs by an unfaithful partner. Perhaps I was a victim of racial profiling in reverse: because I was an innocent-looking, squeaky clean, middle class white college student, clinicians didn’t even think to offer me STD testing–testing that could have saved my fertility. Maybe I would have been embarrassed or offended by the mere suggestion that I could have a “shameful” disease, but now that I am 25 years older and childless, I can say without a doubt that it would have been worth it to have that infection treated if it could have saved my fertility. Rather than being shocked and offended by this racial disparity, I think you should be glad that this is one instance (admittedly maybe the only one) where minority women are getting a better standard of care than white women.

  • view2

    Point taken ferret52. The study is just another reminder that we should be screening all women under 26 for both Chlamydia and Gonorrhea annually. The truth that should be coming out of this study is not just that screening is either based on prejudice or epidemiology but rather that providers are not following CDC guidelines and testing people based on age not race or risk. The same can be said about screening for HIV as well.

  • ldan

    Profiling is generally useless, and in this case actually harms people on both sides of the profile, albeit in different ways.