How STDs Can Play a Role in Abusive Relationships

Not all relationships are good ones, especially when it comes to contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) diagnosis; however, that is not necessarily a reason to avoid a relationship with someone. The way a partner handles that diagnosis can give you a good idea of his or her character. It can also help you figure out whether your relationship is a good one.

Young woman sitting against a wall with her head in her hands
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There are abusive individuals who will use STDs to try and control or injure their partners. This is usually done by intentionally exposing a partner to an STD in order to make them feel trapped in the relationship. It may also be done by using a partner's existing STD to erode their sense of self-worth.

Intentionally Infecting Their Lovers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of 2021, 35 states have criminalization laws against HIV exposure. After being exposed to HIV or an STD, people infected with an incurable STD often feel ruined, dirty, or ashamed. While most people can get over such feelings with time and counseling, some unethical and abusive individuals will intentionally infect a partner with their STD to induce the same feelings of shame.

Some quotes you may hear:

  • "Well, if I give him herpes, then he'll have to stay with me."
  • "Now you're ruined, too. You might as well stay with me because no one else will have you."
  • "Now that you have this disease, there's no way anyone else will love you. If you leave me, you'll be alone for the rest of your life."

The truth is that anyone who intentionally infects you with an STD and then tells you that you have to stay with him or her because you are "ruined," "dirty," "unlovable," or any other description is not someone you should be in a relationship with. It doesn't matter if their actions come out of feelings of insecurity or self-loathing.

Knowingly infecting someone with an STD, with the intention of using the disease to take control over their partner's life, is cruel and abusive. It's a good sign that you need to find a safe way out of that relationship as quickly as possible.

That said, it is important to acknowledge that it is possible for people to expose their partners to STDs unintentionally. For instance, this often happens if someone has an asymptomatic disease of which they are unaware of. It is also worth mentioning that some people knowingly expose their partners to STDs out of shame, ignorance, or negligence rather than cruelty. While such situations may be betrayals of trust and failures of communication, they are not always abusive.

Making You Think No One Will Love You

When a relationship has started to go badly, some people will use any method they can to keep their partner from leaving. One such method may be telling their lover that it will be impossible for them to find a new partner because they have been diagnosed with an STD.

Some typical quotes:

  • "You're lucky that you found me. No one else would have you the way you are."
  • "You can't leave me. You'll never find another person who will accept your diagnosis."
  • "The only reason I can look past your disease is that I've known you for years. No one else will take the time to bother."

Don't believe the lies. Many people with STDs who are open and honest about their diagnoses have found other loving—sexual and romantic—relationships. STDs are extremely common. Some people do not consider an STD a "deal-breaker." Having a private conversation in a comfortable and safe space, remaining calm and not defensive, and giving a partner time to process the information are healthy ways to tell someone you have an STD.

It's true that some people you might want to date will not be able to deal with your STD diagnosis. However, that doesn't mean that it is impossible to find love. People will often choose to take reasonable risks to be with someone they care about. Those risks may include the chance of being exposed to an STD. It often doesn't seem like such a big deal when you're choosing to be with someone you love.

A Word From Verywell

Because you have an STD, even an incurable one, does not mean that you have to stay with your current partner. There are ways to get help both with your infection and to get out of the relationship.

STDs do not make you a bad person, a dirty person or someone unworthy of love. STDs are not a judgment from God. They are not a sign that you don't deserve to be happy.

An STD Is Not a Reason to Stay in an Abusive Relationship

If you need help, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Or call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. PerformCare. STDs and Domestic Abuse.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV and STD Criminalization Laws.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Telling Someone You Have an STD or STI.

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.