Why don't young women go for Chlamydia testing? A qualitative study employing Goffman's stigma framework

Myles Balfe*, Ruairi Brugha, Emer O'Connell, Hannah McGee, Diarmuid O'Donovan, Deirdre Vaughan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-148
Number of pages18
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the respondents who took part in this study. We thank Professor Alaszewski and the two anonymous referees, whose comments have greatly helped to improve the paper. We thank Shirley McQuade and the staff of the Wellwoman Clinic in Dublin, Brendan Clune and the staff at the DIT health centre, Shay Keating and Mick Quinlan at the Gay Men’s Health Project, Maeve O’Brien and Stephanie O’Keefe and the staff of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, Tara Conlon and the staff at the Ballymun Primary Care Centre, and Alessandra Fantini and the staff of the Women’s Health Council for support and advice given on the section of the Irish Chlamydia Screening Pilot Study upon which this paper is based. The study was funded by the Irish Health Protection Surveillance Centre and managed by the Irish Health Research Board. Any mistakes or omissions are our own.


  • Chlamydia
  • Ireland
  • Opportunistic
  • Qualitative
  • Risk
  • Sexuality
  • Stigma


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