While you may not think of Instagram as a portal for getting up-to-date, reliable sexual health information, the truth is that this app is a treasure trove of fast facts about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), valuable advice on getting tested, and other PSAs for eradicating the shame around a diagnosis. In fact, merely by addressing these sometimes taboo topics on social media, Instagrammers are helping to bust the persistent stigma. There's a multitude of STI-education Instagram accounts, but the ones that really stand out boost your knowledge and lend comforting affirmations for enjoying fulfilling relationships and a healthy sex life.
The reality is, STIs are way more common than you may think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), STIs have been steadily on the rise, and there were nearly 2.5 million combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in the United States in 2018. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 1 million STIs are acquired every single day in the US. And those are only known cases: As the WHO points out, the majority of STIs have no symptoms (or only mild ones), and therefore, go unnoticed.
Whether you've been diagnosed with an STI, are dating someone who has one, are eager to learn more about safe sex practices for prevention purposes, or are interested in being a part of the destigmatization movement, the first step is educating yourself about the ins and outs of these infections. One phenomenal way to do that is to follow STI experts — many of whom are living with these infections themselves. So, here are a handful of IG accounts you should follow pronto.
Given that this Instagram account is attached to an inclusive virtual HSV support group based in Washington, D.C., you can expect an outpouring of encouraging posts about living with herpes. In addition to reminders about upcoming virtual meetings, there's also plenty of friendly reminders like "you don't have to justify how you got HSV to anyone." The highlight of this feed, however, may very well be the journal prompts — which include such thought-provoking questions as, "How would you respond if your best friend told you they had HSV?" and, "Has HSV given you anything to be grateful for?"
If you or the person you're currently dating has herpes, this account is a must-follow — as the name suggests, the feed offers an intimate look at what it's like to have a partner with this particular STI. Momo, the creator behind the account, posts adorable comics that depict how she and her boyfriend, Felix, deal with his herpes diagnosis in a variety of contexts. In addition to shining light on how she and her SO had "the talk" about his diagnosis, she also gets real about how they practice safe sex. Occasionally, Momo and Felix also run Q&As, in which they can answer any of your burning questions about their relationship.
Dale, the sex educator behind this Instagram feed, launched this account after receiving his herpes diagnosis to talk openly about life with the STI and destigmatize the condition. The content ranges from simple and straightforward educational posts with facts about HSV-1 and HSV-2 to reassuring reminders like, "You can have herpes and have all the kinds of sex you want." (Say it louder for the people in the back!)
The mission of The STI Project is to "dismantle stigma by reclaiming STI narratives," and this corresponding IG account does just that via tips about more inclusive language and terminology and much-needed truth bombs that are both informative and comforting — like, "Your pleasure is just as important after an STI diagnosis as it was before." The feed is run by Jenelle Marie Pierce, the Executive Director of The STI Project, and some of her posts honestly read like positive affirmations for people with STIs. Case in point: "Your STI status does not define you."
Since publicly sharing her positive herpes diagnosis, sexologist Emily L. Depasse has been using her own experience overcoming stigma to transform a topic that's usually associated with shame into one that's totally approachable. SexELDucation is not only an educational platform but also a welcoming safe space for those dealing with a positive STI diagnosis as well as their partners. Depasse provides advice on a number of tricky subjects, such as disclosing your STI status, and affirming responses for when your partner shares their positive status.
The Safe Sex Project is a Florida-based organization that's led by young people, for young people. It aims to provide educational info about safer sex practices. Since the focus on this feed is all about prevention, their STI-related content typically includes tips about protecting yourself against STIs and getting tested. In addition to occasionally sharing straight facts (like how most common STIs are asymptomatic), they also offer insight into exactly which infections typical STI test panels include (and which they don't).
Honey, the Instagrammer behind this fierce AF feed, is both HSV- and HPV-positive — so it's safe to say she knows a thing or two about getting tested and overcoming the stigma. You're bound to be grateful for hitting "follow," when you occasionally stumble upon her frequent empowering reminders, like, "It doesn't matter how you got an STI," and, "One in six people in the U.S. have genital herpes."
Run by a sex blogger and vlogger, Don't Say Sex is all about inclusive, body-positive sex education. The account has an ongoing series in which it shines a spotlight on specific STIs. For example, one recent post about chlamydia includes stats about how common it is, as well as info on how it can be transmitted, typical symptoms, and safe sex tips for prevention.
After being diagnosed with herpes, London-based sex educator Rukiat Ashawe realized just how misinformed society is about STIs. So, she set out to clear up some of the most common misunderstandings — many of which contribute to the persistent stigma — via a research-based, pleasure-focused, fully inclusive outlook. You're def gonna want to hit the "follow" button for her accessible approach to tough topics (see: "WTF is chlamydia?") and important myth busters on cold sores.
Fun fact: Brook is the only national charity to offer both clinical sexual health services/education and well-being services for young people. It was founded in 1964 by Helen Brook, a total trailblazer in reproductive rights who sought to empower unmarried women in taking charge of their sexual health by providing confidential advice and free contraception.
Today, this clinic continues to provide essential services, training, advocacy, and other resources to people in their 20s and teens. Their Instagram account covers a wide range of sexual health and well-being subjects — including STIs. In a recent IG post, the charity wrote, "We need to keep talking about these common infections to rid societal taboos and normalize testing — that change can start with you."
YouTube sex educator Laureen HD, who was diagnosed with HSV-2 back in 2013, is determined to de-stigmatize living with an STI. One way in which she's working to accomplish this is through Under My Skin, a visual project that showcases people living with an STI reclaiming their perspective on their body post-diagnosis. Each post serves as a profile of a different individual, with back story on how their diagnosis posed challenges to their relationship with their body, and details about how they've overcome those challenges. The goal? To show the world that "having an STI doesn’t make you unattractive."
Alexandra Harbushka has amassed over 8,600 subscribers and 700,000 views on her YouTube channel, Life With Herpes — and it's easy to see why. On her website, Harbushka says she wishes she had a community to turn to back when she was diagnosed in 2011, and that's what inspired her to create a safe space that provides 24/7 support from people who are going through the same thing. If you follow her on IG, you can expect to get answers to a variety of questions about common herpes triggers and transmission, including whether it's possible to have sex with someone who has herpes and not get it. She also offers loads of advice specifically on dating with herpes, disclosing your status, and dealing with herpes-related rejection. Basically, this account is a goldmine of wisdom for those who are HSV-positive, whether you're single and actively hooking up or in a committed relationship.