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Guilt?
Aug 31, 1998

Dear Michael; Why is it that so many people are so terrified they have been infected with HIV even when they have been tested negative time and again? I realize that obsessive thinking about being infected may be associated to other feelings i.e. guilt, but isn't this extreme? What did people worry about before AIDS? (And to this degree).

Response from Mr. Shernoff

People have always had obsessive worries that wound up causing them alot of emotional turmoil. Sexual guilt is one of the most potent causes of anxiety inducing emotional distress, especially in contemporary American culture which has such a strong Puritan and sex negative history juxtaposed with all of the hyper sexual images presented in our media, entertainment and advertising. If you have been following the news stories about how the Europeans and Asians are baffled by all the hoopla about the Presdient and Monica Lewinsky, this is a good example of how much of the rest of the world has a much more integrated and balanced notion about human sexuality. Combine this with the deeply ingrained homophobia and denial of death and youth oriented nature of American society, and there is a very ripe background for certain people who are deeply ambivalent or uncomfortable about their own sexual behaviors or feelings to manifest a serious anxiety or obsessive disorder that is projected onto AIDS. Michael Shernoff, MSW



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