On Monday’s episode of Anderson Cooper’s eponymously titled talk show, the CNN and occasional 60 Minutes reporter interviewed Cyrus Sullivan.
Sullivan operates a site called STD Carriers (note: since his appearance on Anderson, I have had some difficulty accessing the site, no doubt due to bandwith issues on their end), which is a user-generated site/forum where people can post names and images of individuals they claim have various STIs, from herpes to HIV. Sullivan uses himself as an example of someone who has been victimized by someone who did not disclose the full extent of their sexual health, as he once dated a girl who had herpes. He has been quoted as saying:
It was based on a personal experience. I was dating some chick during college who didn’t disclose to me that she had herpes. I was kind of upset about that, and I kind of created the site and put her on there as kind of like, the first person. It kind of made me look like I was looking for revenge, but I actually wasn’t doing it for revenge.
I don’t know Sullivan, or the person who purportedly gave him herpes. I don’t know the extent of his relationship with this individual. But this all just feels a little bit like the "Burn Book" from Mean Girls.
As for Sullivan, he simply passes the buck, saying that he is not responsible for the content placed on his site, since he didn’t put it there. However, he does offer to remove the information, with proof of negative test results. And for $1,000, he will also help you, using his other business, “clean up” your online search results. However, this may not help, because we all know that the internet is kinda forever (Google Cache, anyone?) but he defends himself from this by saying, “If somebody’s on it, and I remove it, it’s going to disappear eventually — unless some other people decide to search engine copy and post links to it."
Oh, and did I mention he also sells T-shirts on his site? Or the fact that he uses a biohazard sign when you use his search engine while you wait to see search results?
When I was single, I would treat any sexual partner as a possible risk. As a cisgendered gay male living in the 21st century, there are a number of sexually transmitted infections a person can get from various acts. You can minimize (not eliminate) those risks by choosing to do or not do certain sexual acts. You can wear condoms to lower the risk of HIV transmission, but that doesn’t eliminate the risk of infections that are obtained through skin-on-skin contact. Or you can choose to only have oral sex, but you can still contract various STIs in your throat if you choose to do so without a condom. I accepted those risks every time I had sexual contact with another person.
Disclosure, especially when it comes to one’s sexual health, is a very difficult thing to do. It’s also a touchy subject in Canada, when nondisclosure can even be viewed as a criminal activity. To come out and say that you are HIV-positive, or have herpes or HPV or hep C, can affect a person’s life in all sorts of ways. I can’t speak to those effects on a personal level, as I have not had to deal with those things. But I have received calls and had conversations with individuals who disclosed to me that they had tested positive for various STIs, and I have had those conversations with other people as well. But these conversations are private matters.
We as a society shame individuals who have STIs. Sullivan’s site is nothing more than a sexual witch hunt, all in the name of “protecting” people and “providing a service.” It seeks to shame people who have next to no way to defend themselves. And on top of it, Sullivan is profiting from the shaming of the individuals who are listed on his site.
There’s only one person here who should be ashamed, and that’s Cyrus Sullivan.