Fear of HIV & STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections)
Fear of sexually transmitted infections or venereal diseases also termed as “Venerophobia” is a poorly reported and poorly researched condition frequently encountered in sexual health clinics.
It is defined as an exaggerated or irrational fear of contracting the venereal disease or the fear of already been infected despite evidence to the contrary, following an isolated or multiple episodes of sexual contact/ intercourse. This condition is often dismissed and neglected and the affected person battles individually without any clear direction or intervention on part of clinicians.
While estimates and data regarding the prevalence and the extent of STIs are plenty, there is a dearth of data about the incidence of venereophobia. However, a study done in 1998 in North India showed venereophobia in 13% of patients presenting to the clinic.
Apprehensive individuals present to STI clinics/ labs for a voluntary check-up and often seek multiple consultations and undergo varied tests and seek repeated reassurance after sexual contact. These clients often present after researching and educating themselves on the subject of venereal disease, usually on the internet. In most cases, they are on a lookout for symptoms and signs which can confirm or refute their fears about contracting venereal diseases.
The patient usually has one or more of the symptoms such as unwarranted fear of venereal disease, feeling of panic, terror, dread, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, anxiety, insomnia, generalized weakness and social withdrawal.
Some individuals also present with local genital complaints such as papules, hyperpigmentation, threads in urine, discharge of semen during urination and so on. Negative tests such as a negative serology for HIV, HSV, HPV, and other common venereal diseases fail to convince the patient about the absence of infections. Rather they often put together ill-founded and sometimes bizarre explanations as to why the tests might not have detected their infections.
They demand multiple other investigations or repeated investigations from various labs to remove the constant and irrational doubts in their mind. This often leads to the enormous investment of time and money at the cost of a personal, work and social life, significantly reducing the quality of life.
Persons with venerophobia often fail to recognize the irrationality of their fears. However, sometimes the client is aware that their worries and doubts are unfounded and yet have difficulty controlling them. Individuals can be treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication after proper diagnosis and investigations. It is crucial to understand the root cause of the fears to help people with venerophobia.