Five years after he was diagnosed with herpes, Courtney Brame decided to do something to comfort others with sexually transmitted diseases and confront the negative perceptions about people dealing with them.
Brame started the podcast “Something Positive for Positive People” after he met a woman on a dating site who said she had contemplated suicide after she was diagnosed with herpes.
“After I heard that, I started to hear it more,” Brame said.
That’s not surprising, given that St. Louis has one of the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the country, statistics that some people attribute to inadequate sex education and access to health care.
Brame said he heard from other people in his social circle with STDs that it was common to struggle with loneliness and depression after being diagnosed.
Very few people in his life knew about his positive status, he said, and he realized what a big deal it could be to share that information, and similar experiences, with others.
During the day, Brame is a personal trainer.
“And at night, I put a cape on,” he said.
The idea of being a herpes-informing superhero is where the name for his Twitter handle “HonMyChest” originated.
Brame grew up in Ferguson and moved around north St. Louis County before heading to Texas to work in marketing. Last spring, shortly after he moved back to St. Louis to work with a friend as a personal trainer, Brame created his first podcast.
The episodes focus on challenges and triumphs people with STDs deal with, such as health, self-esteem and relationships, misdiagnosis and dating.
One episode, for example, features a woman discussing being sexually abused, contracting a virus and recovering.
Brame said he asks his guests to give their race, age, location and sexual orientation. The biographical information people disclose, he said, helps dispel myths about people who have STDs.
Brame has featured people in Missouri and in other states on his podcast. So far, he’s produced 12 episodes that have received nearly 900 total listens.
Since he didn’t have any formal experience interviewing people before he started his project, he relied heavily his “childlike curiosity” to pursue a mission he said feels like a calling to him.
In one podcast, Brame talks with a woman who says that she was repeatedly diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, given antibiotics and sent home. Eventually, she was diagnosed with herpes.
Brame said he believes there is a nonchalant attitude among health professionals in St. Louis about sexually transmitted diseases and he doesn’t understand why.
“Is it common? Is it not worth the time (to diagnose)?” he asked.
He said when he was diagnosed he was given a pamphlet and some pills.
“They kind of send you on your way,” Brame said.
Erise Williams Jr. is president and chief officer of the nonprofit Williams & Associates Inc., which focuses on health disparities in communities of color.
Williams said he believes the high infection rate in the region is due to a few factors, including limited access to health care and the stigma around STDs.
“The stigma … is still pretty prevalent,” Williams said, “even to the point where you have physicians who don’t want certain tests run in their office.”
Williams said he has talked with patients in the past who have private insurance but nevertheless were referred to his nonprofit for testing by their doctors.
He said he believed that criminalizing HIV is another deterrent to testing and treatment for some people who fear jail time if they test positive and don’t tell their sex partners. A Missouri law requires people infected with HIV to disclose their positive status to potential sex partners.
Williams said he believes getting tested sooner rather than later is the key to keeping infection rates low. Williams & Associates Inc. is one of several locations in St. Louis that offer free testing.
“The test methods are becoming even more accurate and effective because we’re about to move, in January, to a 20-minute test that is even more specific,” he said.
That test will be able to detect HIV infections earlier, said Sara O’Connor, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman. The test, administered through a finger stick, is already available at some locations.
O’Connor said the state doesn’t “currently require the use of this test,” but strongly encourages it in situations where a person may have been infected with HIV.
Brame said a lot of people are afraid to disclose their positive status for fear of rejection. He hopes his show can help change their minds.
“I’m really hoping to encourage those with STDs to disclose,” he said. “This isn’t something that defines them.”