After being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI), the prospect of notifying current and past partners can be daunting for many. The topic of discussing genital herpes and other sexual health matters has been covered many times in The Helper, with the focus on face-to-face communication with a partner. An innovative service offered by the Internet Sexuality Information Services (ISIS) offers an alternative to those who have trouble finding the right words, or who would like to go about the task anonymously.
The website inSpot (www.inspot.org), developed by ISIS in conjunction with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, offers users a series of e-cards (postcards sent via e-mail) designed to notify sex partner(s) of an STI diagnosis. Yet recipients of the cards get more than just the news; the cards include links to STI-specific information and, in participating areas, information about local testing sites as well.
Launched in San Francisco in 2004, inSpot has been replicated in 10 cities, nine states, and two additional countries. While a site user in any location can send an e-card, those in participating areas are directed to a site-specific site with information about local clinics, hotlines, and other resources.
As originally conceived, the site provides a modern alternative to traditional partner notification, where sex partners of a patient diagnosed with HIV or a reportable STD such as syphilis or gonorrhea are told of their possible exposure and advised of the need to seek testing and treatment. This can be done anonymously offline with the assistance of healthcare providers or public health officials.
According to a recent review of the service reported in PLoS Medicine, more than 30,000 people have sent over 49,500 e-cards since the launch of the inSpot site in 2004. While the site would seem vulnerable to some misuse, the review indicated that fewer than ten recipients have reported receiving an e-card in error.
At the Herpes Resource Center and in the pages of The Helper, we focus on the importance of in person communication, and suggest that a discussion of a genital herpes diagnosis should be done in the context of the overall sexual health of both partners. Yet while open communication is ideal, is it realistic for everyone? The inSpot site certainly provides a viable alternative for those who want to communicate but are not ready, or willing, to do so in person.
UPDATE: Here’s one reader’s experience with inSpot that we wanted to share:
“I was recently diagnosed with genital herpes and read and heard about this e-card before reading it in your winter newsletter. I had looked into it, and I seriously considered using it, but when it came right down to it I decided that the matter needed more words than a simple card could convey. I was exposed to herpes through participation in an alternate lifestyle with my husband and another couple. The other couple was someone we had no prior contact with and had only met for the first time on New Year’s Eve. It was a heat of the moment kind of thing. We exchanged e-mail addresses, but no phone numbers. So the only way I had to notify them of my positve status was e-mail. The card would’ve worked, but I didn’t use it.”