Thirty young adults (between 18 and 29 years of age) who had sought STI testing were interviewed about their experiences of 'passing' during the STI testing process (keeping their testing practices a secret from other individuals), and also their experiences of disclosing to other individuals the fact that they had sought STI testing. Respondents kept their STI testing practices secret from others in order to preserve their identities as 'normal' individuals. They feared that their identities would become stigmatised if other people were to find out about their testing practices. Keeping their practices a secret was difficult and emotionally draining. Consequently, respondents usually chose to inform a few key individuals about their testing activities. These individuals provided respondents with emotional support and helped them to pass as normal. Healthcare professionals were a particular, valued group to whom respondents disclosed their need for STI testing. A number of respondents reported experiencing stigmatising reactions from healthcare professionals, however, which had deleterious consequences for these respondents' willingness to seek treatment for their STI. Findings are discussed in relation to Goffman's impression management framework (1959, 1963) and develop Goffman's work by highlighting the roles played by emotions and social networks in impression management activities.
© 2010 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness © 2010 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/Blackwell Publishing Ltd.