What to Expect After an STI

One of the most common and dangerous myths about STIs is that most people think “it will never happen to me.” A lot of sexually active people think that STIs and STDs only happen to certain types of people. Although it is true that some groups are considered to be more at risk than others, STIs can happen to anyone who is sexually active and they can happen at any time.


Worrying About STIs

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In the information age, we have access to so much information, but believe it or not, STIs are more prevalent in our society than ever before. In fact, it’s estimated that by the age of 25 one in two sexually active individuals in the US will contract an STI and approximately 20 million new cases pop up every year. One more alarming statistic is that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up about two-thirds of reported cases. So, statistically speaking, there is a good chance that if you are sexually active, you may have already been exposed to one of the 27-plus STIs out there (and those are just the ones we know about!)

Now that you’re informed (and probably freaked out), it’s easy to see how important it is to get tested regularly and often. Getting an STD test probably doesn’t sound like a good time, but it’s an important responsibility when you are sexually active. It will give you peace of mind and is a major part of your sexual well-being and the health of your partners.

It’s a common misconception that you will “just know” if you have an STI. Many STIs show no signs of symptoms for the majority of those affected so getting tested is the only sure-fire way to find out if you have one. Trust me—this is not one of those “ignorance is bliss” situations. Many STIs have serious, negative long-term effects if they go untreated—like infertility and cervical cancer! You don’t want to take any chances when it comes to your health. In the best-case scenario, the tests will come back clean and you will have peace of mind. But in the event that a test comes back positive for an STI, it’s not the end of the world! Most people live active, healthy lives with STIs. Here’s what you need to know about life after contracting an STI.


Coping With the News

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Directly following the diagnosis, you may be experiencing a range of emotions: shame, embarrassment, anger, and regret. These feelings are all completely normal. Take a breath and take the time you need to process the specifics of your situation. Talk to a counselor—an educated professional who can help you process your feelings and work through your diagnosis. If you’re too nervous to make an appointment with someone in person, there are some really helpful anonymous hotlines where you can get in touch with people who understand what you’re going through. Whatever you are feeling, just know that you’re not alone and it will be okay. An STI diagnosis does not mean the end of your love life or even your sex life! Getting the facts will help you stay sane and rational and will help you move forward.


Taking Care of Yourself

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First and foremost, if you haven’t already, make an appointment with your doctor. Show up for your appointment with all your questions—this will help the two of you to develop a treatment plan for your unique situation. Keep in mind that your prognosis may not be dire, depending on what you’ve been exposed to. Bacterial infections like chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea can be cured with antibiotics when caught early enough and once the infection is out of your system, you can no longer infect anybody else. Parasitic STIs (like pubic lice, scabies, and trichomoniasis) can also be cured easily. However, viral infections like genital herpes, warts, and HIV are not curable. But don’t worry! Most symptoms can be managed with medication and you can still live a full and happy life.


Informing Your Partners

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This is the part that no one likes; the dreaded STI conversation. You probably have a ton of questions swirling around your head. Who do you need to tell? Why do you need to tell them? When do you tell a partner that you’re infected? And even harder, how do you tell someone that you may have infected with an STI? If you’re in a monogamous relationship there is one way to approach the topic and a different way if you’re single/dating/having sex with multiple partners. It’s also really important that you contact any previous partners who you may have infected (also called “Contact Tracing”). It is a scary step, but it’s the law and there is help. Remember: you are not alone!


Having Sex After STIs

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If your STI is bacterial (meaning curable), hold off on all sex until you’ve gone through the prescribed treatment and test comes back clear of infection. If you have a viral STI, that doesn’t mean your sex life is DOA. It’s, of course, important to notify any potential new partners, but you might not want to do it on the first date (unless of course you feel spontaneous and plan on having sex).

Before getting down to the deed, always take the necessary precautions: if you have herpes, take the anti-viral medication. Always wear a condom. Using lube during intercourse helps prevent condoms from tearing and also protects the vagina from microscopic tears in labia that allow easier transmission. And keep in mind, you’re not the first person to try to have a normal life with a diagnosis; there are a lot of people who are actively dating with an incurable STD.


Dealing With the Stigma

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Probably the hardest part of an STI diagnosis is dealing with the stigma that comes along with it. While STIs are incredibly common in the US, there is still so much shame associated with them, no matter who you are or what your sexual habits are. The reality is that STIs can happen to anyone—and they do! You can do everything “right” in your sex life, avoid all risky behavior, wear condoms, get tested regularly, talk to your partners about your sexual history, be in a faithful and monogamous relationship and STILL contract an STI! This often happens because you or your partner does not know they are a carrier or because you missed the best window for being tested. Just know that YOU are not your diagnosis, you are not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

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