Why don’t young women go for Chlamydia testing? A qualitative study employing Goffman’s stigma framework
Many women who might be at risk of having the sexually transmitted infection
(STI) Chlamydia trachomatis either delay going, or do not go, for testing. We
aimed to examine the factors that either prevent or discourage Irish young women from going for Chlamydia testing. We conducted in-depth interviews with 35 women in the Republic of Ireland who were between 18 and 29 years of age. Accounts were analysed using Goffman’s stigma framework. Study respondents strongly associated Chlamydia and Chlamydia testing with stigma and felt that only irresponsible, promiscuous risk takers were at risk of contracting the infection. Respondents saw themselves as responsible, moral actors who avoided risk and took good care of their bodies; they were therefore not at risk of having Chlamydia. Going for Chlamydia testing was seen as a risky activity that could shift respondents identities into a negative ‘Other’ category. Respondents feared that if they found themselves in this ‘Other’ category they would open themselves to bullying and ostracism. While a negative act from a medical perspective, for respondents the act of not testing was seen as a positive activity that helped to reinforce their identities as good, ‘worthy’ individuals and avoided negative social consequences that might otherwise arise from the testing process.