Is Blue Waffle Disease a Real STI?

Internet hoax portrays female sexuality as unhealthy

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Blue waffle disease is an internet hoax started in 2010 that warned of a fictitious sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes the vagina to turn blue. It made national headlines when the prank was cited by a New Jersey councilperson as a new and imminent threat to a woman's health.

The fact that the prank sowed such panic and discontent illustrates how easily misinformation can be spread, jeopardizing not only a person's peace of mind but their understanding of the nature and risks of real STIs.

Blue waffle disease is a fictional STI. The disease does not exist and was concocted by internet pranksters in 2010. It is one example of the types of internet hoaxes intended to mislead readers for the purpose of sowing misinformation, phishing, selling quack products, attracting charitable donations, or simply being malicious.

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How the Hoax Started

The blue waffle disease myth started as a bait-and-switch meme. Posting an image of a blue-colored waffle, the pranksters challenged users with the text: "Bet you can't find me on Google image search." Those who took the bait were shocked to find a photograph of a blue-tinted, apparently diseased labia. The name was lifted from the slang term "waffle," meaning vagina.

The disease, which the pranksters claimed was sexually transmitted, was said to cause vaginal lesions, itching, burning, and a smelly discharge—namely all of the symptoms one might expect from STIs like gonorrhea or chlamydia.

While it is possible that the image of the blue vagina was doctored, it is more likely that the vagina was stained with gentian violet. (Gentian violet is a blue-colored antiseptic dye sometimes used to treat yeast infections.)

Medical evidence debunking the myth did little to quell the rising panic on social media. Some people even claimed that blue waffle disease could eventually turn a person's body blue if left unchecked.

The blue waffle myth picked up steam in 2013 when New Jersey councilperson Kathy MacBride was taken in by the ruse and proposed actions to address the fictional health threat.

Intentions and Consequences

As silly or benign as the prank may seem, its ultimate aim was to sow panic and distress—and, in that regard, it succeeded. One of the consequences of these hoaxes is that it fuels a phenomenon known as "Munchausen by Internet" in which people purposely manufacture illnesses for the purpose of trolling or seeking attention.

The fact that so many people fell for the hoax also reflects a pervasive narrative that sexually active women are "abnormal" and will ultimately reap the consequences of their sexual behavior. After all, blue waffle disease was an STI that affects only women, not men.

Ironically, boys and men will often brag about having "blue balls" if they are frustrated by not having enough sex. The underlying narrative is that men are meant to have sex—and lots of it—or suffer the consequences of "blue balls."

It is a reflection of a culture that still measures a man's worth by his sexuality and attacks and degrades a woman for hers.

Real Sexually Transmitted Infections

One of the reasons that blue waffle disease fooled so many people is that the pranksters described symptoms that were readily associated with STIs in women, many of which overlap. This includes symptoms associated with:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV): Vaginal redness and swelling, vaginal itchiness, vaginal discharge, a "fishy" smell, burning with urination, bleeding with sex
  • Chlamydia: Vaginal redness and swelling, vaginal itchiness, vaginal discharge, pain with urination, lower abdominal or pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, bleeding with sex, bleeding between periods
  • Gonorrhea: Vaginal redness and swelling, vaginal itchiness, vaginal discharge, pain with urination, lower abdominal or pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, bleeding with sex, bleeding between periods
  • Genital herpes: Vaginal redness and swelling, vaginal itching or burning, painful vaginal blisters and sores, vaginal discharge, pain with urination
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV): Painless genital warts, vaginal itchiness

Getting Tested for STIs

Most of the time, an STI will have no symptoms. The lack of symptoms does not mean that you are "in the clear" if you engage in condomless sex or have other risk factors for STIs.

If you think you are at risk of exposure, whether you have symptoms or not, speak with a health professional. Ultimately, the only way to know if you've gotten an STI is to get tested. The health professional can not only advise you which tests are needed but let you know when to get tested so that you don't do so within the "window period" where false negatives are possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued the following STI screening recommendations for women in the United States:

  • Sexually active women under 25: Gonorrhea and chlamydia screening are recommended annually.
  • Sexually active women 25 and over with risk factors: Gonorrhea and chlamydia screening are also recommended annually.
  • Pregnant women: Syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B screening are recommended early in pregnancy as well as gonorrhea and chlamydia screening for those with risk factors.
  • All people 13 to 64 years: HIV testing is recommended at least once as part of a routine medical visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is blue waffle disease?

Blue waffle is a fictional sexually transmitted infection (STI) that was said to turn the vagina blue and disfigure it. The myth was first started in 2010 and later went viral when the online hoax was cited by a New Jersey councilperson as a health threat to women.

How do you get blue waffle disease?

You cannot get blue waffle disease as it is a fictional STI. Even so, there are things you can do to protect yourself from real sexually transmitted infections, including the consistent use of external and internal condoms and a reduction in your number of sex partners.

What does blue waffle disease look like?

Blue waffle disease does not exist. This doesn't mean you should ignore changes in the color, sensitivity, or smell of your vagina. A red, irritated vagina with itching, burning, and smelly discharge could be signs of a very real condition called vaginitis, commonly linked to STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.

A Word From Verywell

Blue waffle disease does not exist. It is not an STI, and your genitals will not turn blue if you have a lot of sex.

However, if you do notice changes on your genitals, such as bumps, sores, or discharge, see your healthcare provider, a woman's health clinic, or a free STI clinic. Symptoms like these could very well suggest an STI in need of treatment.

It is equally important to educate yourself so that you can not only spot the signs of an STI but learn how to avoid them. Always seek information from reputable sources like the CDC to avoid falling prey to internet pranks.

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14 Sources
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