TikToker Chris Olsen is using humor — and his platform of nearly 10 million followers — to talk openly about sexual health.
In a recent video post, Olsen, 25, told a hilarious story about going to get a routine STI test, during which he revealed that he’s tested positive for chlamydia three times in the past. (STIs, short for sexually transmitted infections, are transmitted through sexual contact; when left untreated, they can develop into a sexually transmitted disease, or STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
“So, I’ve had chlamydia three times — end the stigma,” Olsen began the video in a joking tone, referring to the treatable STI that's the most frequently reported bacterial infectious disease in the United States, per the CDC. Then the social media star, who identifies as gay, breezily went on to share that the female nurse who was drawing his blood at the time of his recent visit attempted to try and set him up with her gay son.
“I’m like, 'OK, reel it back, reel it back. What’s his name?'” he said in the video. “Because I know my hacking skills can find this man in a second. As I leave, she tells me his name. When I find this man on Instagram, I found out that he is the ex of one of the men who has ghosted me this past year — and in their story, they’re hanging out.”
The story did have a happy ending, though.
“Anyway, she just called me and I do not have chlamydia, this time, so, little wins!” he said.
Responses to the video have been wide-ranging, with many commenters praising Olsen’s bravery for being open about his STI history without layering it with the stigma, shame and fear that is so often attached to disclosure stories.
Singer-songwriter Jewel even weighed in, writing, “Omg I love you.”
“Congrats on your test results! Also kudos for being responsible!” added a follower.
“We love a queen that takes care of themselves!” one another admirer added, referencing Olsen’s message to routinely get tested for STIs.
“That was a rollercoaster but yay no chlamydia,” a commenter chimed in, while another added: “You know what! I’ve never loved you more than I do rn!!!”
“I thought I was stubborn but I bow down to someone who could experience that 3x and not give up on dating ha,” another wrote.
Why it matters
The truth is that sexually transmitted infections are quite common, with the CDC surmising that "1 in 5" Americans will receive a positive STI diagnosis in their lifetime; other sources, including the Kaiser Family Foundation, put that even higher, estimating that over half of people in the U.S. will have an STI in their lifetime.
Meanwhile, positive cases reached an all-time high for the sixth year in a row in 2019, with more than 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea & syphilis reported that year — and half of all new STI cases found in young adults ages 15 to 24, according to the CDC. Though that took a sizable dip during the pandemic due to social distancing, by the end of 2020 (the most recent stats available), cases of STIs like gonorrhea and syphilis continued to surge. Still, many find the topic too taboo to discuss.
It’s why Olsen’s video is so important, says Jenelle Marie Pierce, board president of the STI Project, an organization that aims to de-stigmatize STIs through sex education, and spokesperson for the dating site Positive Singles. She argues that telling personal stories in such an open, accessible way — with humor, if possible — creates a good model for how young people can have complicated conversations about sexual health.
"What I love most about this video is the casual conversation that's taking place between the influencer and the audience, which is none too different than a typical disclosure conversation," Pierce tells Yahoo Life. "In some ways, it's serious, yes, but it can also be fun and affirming. It's a dialogue where information is shared and decisions are made and then, hopefully, fun is had. What's not to like about that, right?"
Oftentimes, conversations around STI disclosure get "wrapped up in a lot of trepidation, fear, ethics, and morality," she notes. And while some of that fear and shame is unavoidable, what people often forget is that disclosure can be a simple conversation among partners — something which Olsen’s candor demonstrates.
Seeing examples of celebrities who are unafraid, unabashed — and, more importantly, responsible — by encouraging their followers to get routine STI tests every "three to six months" if they're sexually active with multiple partners, as per CDC guidelines, matters, especially when it comes to dismantling stigmatizing language around STIs.
"I think it's wonderful to see people with large platforms discussing their chlamydia diagnosis — and there should be even more people talking about it, because we know so many are experiencing this diagnosis," says Pierce. (There were over 1.6 million chlamydia diagnoses in 2021 alone, per the CDC.)
"Unsurprisingly, we don't have a lot of examples to reference," Pierce adds, noting that, historically, public disclosure has had its fair share of criticism, due to stigma and misinformation.
"Anne Heche was essentially blacklisted when she talked about contracting herpes after experiencing sexual assault," Pierce says. "We often only hear about celebrities with genital herpes in conjecture, or after lawsuits have been filed, like in the case of Usher. Jonathan Van Ness shared his HIV-positive status and was applauded for his transparency and authenticity, as he should be," though other celebrities have not fared as well, such as Charlie Sheen.
Still, the impact these celebrities have on their audiences is profound and cannot be understated.
"Some of the most common Google searches are 'celebrities with herpes,' 'celebrities with HIV,' 'celebrities with STDs,' and so on," Pierce, an advocate for reducing STI stigma online, says. "People are desperate to find someone they admire who has had a similar experience because contracting an STI can be one of the most isolating experiences of someone's life."
That is why, she adds, it's so important for people to share their stories.
"It has the power to change someone's entire perception of themselves," she says. "Although celebrities are powerful, and searching for celebrities with STDs is a common search term, it's important not to understate the importance of sharing our individual experiences with people we love and trust. The vast majority of all people contract an STI at some point in their lives which means that someone you know, respect, and love has an STI."
The more we feel comfortable sharing our experiences with one another the more we realize they are shared and we are not alone, she adds.
"You want to approach these conversations from a place of authenticity and vulnerability and sometimes part of being authentic is admitting that you don't know all the answers, or laughing at yourself because it's just an awkward conversation," Pierce says. “That's OK because that shows that you are human, you are relatable, and you are growing and learning with them."
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