STI? Don’t Freak Out. Here’s What to Do Next
Over the last few years, there’s been an overwhelming amount of recognition favoring sex positivity, the power of pleasure, and the importance of sex-care. But one topic that isn’t receiving as much (and in our opinion, needed) awareness? Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.
We typically share with our friends when we’re feeling under the weather, but when was the last time you casually mentioned your herpes outbreak to your BFF? Probably never. According to a 2016 report by the CDC, STIs are at an all-time high in the United States, and yet somehow, there’s still shame and stigma surrounding people who have one.
It’s been reported that 1 in 2 people will contract an STI by the time they’re 25 and a total of 20 million people are infected each year in the US alone. In other words? They’re extremely common. Despite their frequency, there’s still very little conversation, not to mention information, surrounding this taboo subject. We think it’s time for that to change.
Typically, most people’s experience with STI education consists of high school sex ed or the occasional internet search (i.e.: “is it genital warts or an ingrown hair?”), so we brought in Board-Certified OBGYN and Clinical Sexual Health Counselor, Dr. Michael Krychman, to get the 411 on what to do if you think you have an STI or you’ve just been diagnosed with one.
Don’t Ignore the Symptoms
“If you’ve come in contact with someone who was diagnosed, or you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s very important that you don’t ignore them.” Dr. Krychman advises. When it comes to STIs, he says, “it’s better to be overly certain because some sexually transmitted infections can cause long-term effects to your body if they go untreated.” For example, some strands of cervical cancer are linked to HPV and it’s reported that around 24,000 women are left infertile each year due to undiagnosed infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Know Your Risk Factors
Not every person with an STI will show symptoms, and in many cases, symptoms may go completely unnoticed. One study showed that 63% of chlamydia cases are asymptomatic and another said that almost 90% of the people who have herpes have no idea they’re infected. So, if you’re not having symptoms, how do you know if—or when—you should get an STI screening? Consider the risk factor—could you be considered high risk? “If you don’t have any symptoms, but have high risk factors such as multiple partners, unprotected sex or have had a partner with an STI diagnosis, it’s better to be safe than sorry.” Dr. Krychman says. By getting routine checks, you’re keeping yourself, and future partners, healthy and safe.
Don’t Freak Out
For some, especially for women, receiving an STI diagnosis can feel like the end of the world, but it doesn’t have to be—and it isn’t. “My biggest piece of advice for someone who’s just received an STI diagnosis is to not freak out.” Dr. Krychman says. “It’s important to remember that sexually transmitted infections are very, very common, and just because you have one doesn’t mean you’re a dirty or bad person.” It also isn’t the end of your sex life. Most STIs are treatable with antibiotics, and infections like herpes are completely manageable with suppression therapy and open communication with your sex partners.
Communication is Key
Just like any aspect of a healthy relationship, establishing open and honest communication with your sexual partners can be critical when it comes to STIs. Dr. Krychman says that while ultimately, it’s up to you who you decide to tell, if you’re going to be intimate with someone you should discuss your status, decide what getting intimate looks like for your relationship and encourage them to get tested, too. Need tips on how to start the conversation with a partner? You can read more here.
Learn from the Past
Instead of self-shaming or berating yourself, Dr. Krychman recommends using your diagnosis as a learning lesson. “Getting diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection can be a very personal experience. So many women blame themselves, when really it can happen to anyone,” he says. Instead of shaming yourself, use this as an opportunity to become more aware of your sexual health, understand your risk factors, and practice safer sex, including partner tracing.
It’s not always easy to talk to your doctor, your partner or your friends about STIs, but by acknowledging their prevalence and educating ourselves on the facts and risks, we’re one step closer to ending the stigma associated with a positive diagnosis. By erasing the shame, it empowers more people to talk about it, share their status, and get tested.