STDs In Film

 By: Tim Leach
STDs have played a starring role in many films, and not just to encourage STD testing. Here are four to watch out for.

STDs are a subject that most people find it hard to talk about, but they crop up surprisingly often in film. Sometimes they are used in a comical fashion as an embarrassing mishap that happens to one of the main characters, sometimes a character's struggle against a disease forms the basis for a serious drama. But however they subject is tackled, STDs on film invariably raise awareness and promote discussion about the issues at hand - and anything that encourages sexual health and STD testing can only be a good thing!

Here are four films that feature STD testing as an essential part of the plot...

The Libertine

This recent film was based on the life of the infamous John Wilmot, renowned as a poet, drunkard, and hugely successful lover of women and men during the rule of Charles II. Like any ladies man in an era before reliable contraception and effective STD treatment, Rochester suffered from an impressive combination of STDs, including gonorrhoea and syphilis. The film doesn't flinch from the grim realities of the disease, and by the end of the film, Rochester has lost his nose to the degenerative syphilis that would eventually kill him at the age of 33.

The film may be accurate in its depiction of the disease, but luckily, advances in STD testing and treatment means that syphilis is now very rare!


Regarded as the first film to seriously tackle the question of AIDs on film, 'Philadelphia' was an enormously successful film, made in 1993 and starring Tom Hanks. Hanks plays a closeted gay lawyer, who is ostracized and then dismissed by his firm after they discover that he has AIDs. He then goes on to sue for unfair dismissal.

The film is particularly strong when dealing the prejudice that AIDs and HIV sufferers had to endure at the hand of co-workers, family and friends. In one memorable scene, one of the characters goes to the doctor after shaking Hanks' hand, fearing that he might have contracted AIDs simply through touching him - this kind of fear and ignorance of the realities of AIDs were widespread when the disease first become prevalent.


This hugely controversial film, made in 1995 by Larry Clark, focuses on the dangers of unprotected sex amongst American teenagers. The main character, Telly, has made a policy of only sleeping with virgins as a way of avoiding STDs. Unfortunately, Telly has already unknowingly contracted HIV, and so is spreading it to everyone that he sleeps with. After one of his partners goes for STD testing and discovers that she has HIV, she sets out to try and track him down and stop him from spreading the disease further.

With the film featuring a heady cocktail of underage sex, drugs, rape, and violence, it is easy to see why it provoked such a strong moral outrage when it was released!

Plunkett and Maclean

Last but not least, a more comic look at STDs! An unnamed STD makes a cameo appearance in this 18th century action comedy, when one of the two highwaymen at the centre of the story catches "the pox" after an intimate encounter with a woman he intends to rob. His partner, an apothecary, manages to cook up an unnamed, explosive and extremely painful cure to "burn away" the infection. It is played for laughs, but both the non-specific diagnosis and the gruesome, painful cure were all too common in the early days of STD testing!
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Article Tags: std testing

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