4 Things You Should Do If You Think You Have an STD

Step-by-Step Guide to Protecting Yourself and Others

1

Start Practicing Safer Sex

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If you think you might have an STD, and you are currently involved in a sexual relationship, it is your responsibility to protect both yourself and your partner from further infection. While that ideally involves talking to your partner about why you're worried, getting tested, and abstaining from sex until you both know what's up, that may not be feasible for everyone.

What you can do, however, is start practicing safer sex if you haven't been doing so already. Safer sex may not be foolproof, particularly for diseases like herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human papillomavirus (HPV) that are spread skin to skin, but it will generally reduce the risk of transmitting any infection you have.

You should start practicing safer sex even if you think you might have already exposed your partner to an STD. Not every disease is transmitted every time you have sex, so it is never too late to start being safe.

2

Get Tested

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It's much better to know whether or not you have an STD than to think you might have one. Therefore, the best thing to do when you are worried that you might have an STD is to find out whether or not you're right.

The only way to know for certain if you have an STD is to get tested; you can't find out by symptoms alone or looking at pictures online. You have to visit a doctor, a public agency, or a clinic, and when you go, you should:

  1. Tell your doctor why you think you have an STD (e.g., a former partner contacted you that they have symptoms).
  2. Tell your doctor when you think you might have been exposed to the STD.
  3. Tell your doctor the last time you were tested, and confirm what they are going to test you for.

It is important to remember certain STD tests require a waiting period of several weeks or more before an accurate result can be returned.

If you are tested prematurely within the so-called window period, it is possible that an STD test might return a false negative result.

Therefore, if you may have been recently exposed to HIV or other STDs that are detected through an antibody test, your doctor may ask you to come back for a repeat test in a month or more. With HIV, for example, even the newest tests require you to wait at least 15 to 20 days after a suspected exposure before an accurate result can be returned.

3

Start and Complete Treatment

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If you are diagnosed with a bacterial STD, it is important to complete the full treatment regimen that your doctor prescribes for you even if you feel better before it is finished. Not taking all of your antibiotics increases your risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection that will be much harder to treat in the future.​

In North America, the rate of antibiotic resistance is rising rapidly. Today, no less than six previously recommended antibiotics are resistant to gonorrhea: sulfonamides, penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, fluoroquinolones, and early-generation cephalosporins.

If you are currently in a sexual relationship, it is a good idea to refrain from having sex until both you and your partner have completed treatment. Otherwise, you risk passing the infection back and forth between each other.

If you are diagnosed with an incurable viral STD (like HIV, HPV, or HSV), you will want to have a long talk with your doctor about how you can best manage your infection, both in terms of managing your condition and lowering the risk of transmitting the virus to others.

These are diseases with which you can still enjoy a happy sexual life, but they do require management and care—both for the sake of your body and your relationship.

4

Talk to Your Partners About Your Diagnosis

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Once you've been diagnosed with an STD, it's important to let any current sexual partners know that they may have been exposed so that they too can undergo testing and treatment as well. It is also a good idea to reach out to any recent partners even if you are no longer sleeping with them as they could also be at risk.

While talking to former partners can be difficult, you can always choose to use an online service that allows you to send an anonymous e-mail informing them that they may have an STD. It may not be as polite as reaching out directly, but the important thing is that your former partners learn they are at risk.

It's important to note that certain STDs are notifiable, meaning that the testing providers are required by law to inform your partners that they may be infected, albeit without including your name.

CDC Nationally Notifiable STDs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 7 reportable STDs in the United States are:

  • Chlamydia (confirmed cases)
  • Chancroid (confirmed and probable cases)
  • Gonorrhea (confirmed and probable cases)
  • Hepatitis B (confirmed acute cases as well as confirmed and probable chronic cases
  • Hepatitis C (acute, past, and present cases)
  • HIV (confirmed cases and possible perinatal exposures)
  • Syphilis
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  2. Yarbrough ML, Burnham CA. The ABCs of STIs: an update on sexually transmitted infections. Clin Chem. 2016;62(6):811-23. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2015.240234

  3. Bodie M, Gale-Rowe M, Alexandre S, Auguste U, Tomas K, Martin I. Addressing the rising rates of gonorrhea and drug-resistant gonorrhea: There is no time like the presentCan Commun Dis Rep. 2019;45(2-3):54-62. doi:10.14745/ccdr.v45i23a02

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019 national notifiable conditions (historical).