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March 25, 1992

STDs: To Clap, Add Leak, Coolant, and Bore

Author Affiliations

Humboldt State University Arcata, Calif
Southern Methodist University Dallas, Tex

JAMA. 1992;267(12):1611-1612. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480120049022

To the Editor.  —Fleisher et al1 recently pointed out that a generic question inadequately assesses a prior history of STDs because people may not recognize that a specific disease is sexually transmitted. The communication issue they identify may be more complex in specific cultures or subcultures. People may apply alternative, ethnomedical labels to diseases they don't recognize as sexually transmitted but which biomedicine does. They also may apply ethnomedical labels to STDs without recognizing equivalence between ethnomedical and biomedical labels.For example, research undertaken during 1989 through 1991 revealed that people on the West Indian islands of Barbados and St Lucia use a variety of labels for illnesses that biomedical practice recognizes as STDs. Some are identical to biomedical labels, like syphilis, herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Other labels, like "clap," "leak," "coolant," and "bore," apply to symptoms commonly produced by STDs. Some people comment that labels like clap