You’ve got a sexually transmitted infection. Now what?


Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be scary. You may be worried about the physical effects of the infection and what a diagnosis means for you, your relationships, and your future sex life.  Regardless of the specific STI you are diagnosed with, here are a few important things to consider.

Take care of your physical health.Image

  • Find out as much as you can about the STI that you have been diagnosed with. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or your friendly Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS).  Get information from books or reputable websites.  The more you know, the better prepared you will be to deal with this diagnosis.
  • Get treated.  Not all STIs are curable, but all of them are treatable. One of your first steps is to talk to a doctor about treatment.  STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia can be treated (and cured) by taking antibiotics. HPV-infected tissue (warts and precancerous tissue) can be removed using various treatments. For herpes and HIV, there is no cure, but there are various treatments available to help manage symptoms.
  • Talk to your provider about what other STI tests you may need and when you should get tested.  Having one STI can put you at higher risk for getting other STIs.

Recognize and deal with emotions that can come with diagnosis.

  • Being diagnosed with an STI does not mean that you are dirty, a bad person, promiscuous, or unworthy of love.  Anyone can get an STI. At least half of all sexually active people will have an STI at some point in their lives.
  • Understand that people with STIs can have healthy, fulfilling sex lives in the future.  As always, it will be important to take precautions, such as using condoms or dental dams, to protect yourself and your partner.  Talk to a provider or Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS) to learn more about specific precautions for different kinds of STIs.

Relationships

  • One thing to consider is how you will tell current, past, or future sexual partners about your diagnosis. Even though it may be hard, if you are or have been sexually active with someone, it is important to tell them so that they can get tested and into treatment.  It’s best to be direct and honest. While it is hard to predict how your partner will react, it is likely that they will respect and appreciate your honesty.
  • Current Partners:  Until both you and your partner can be tested, it is important to abstain from sex or use safer sex measures such as condoms and dental dams so that you can prevent re-infection or becoming infected with another STI.
  • Past Partners: For some STIs, it may be difficult to tell exactly how long you have had it. So, you may have to think about telling some past sexual partners about your diagnosis, so that they can also get tested. If you are unsure about how far back you need to go, talk to a clinician. They may be able to give you information about how long you’ve likely had the STI and which partners to inform.
  • Future Partners: If you have had an STI (like gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis) that has been treated and cured, there may be no need to tell your future partners about your diagnosis. However, for STIs like HIV and herpes, you have a responsibility to tell future sexual partners before you have sex, even if you are on treatment or are planning to use condoms. You don’t have to tell a partner right away, but you should let a partner know before having sex so that you can both make informed decisions about sex.

For more specifics about how to talk to a partner, check out this past post.

There is no right way to feel after being diagnosed with an STI. Try to keep things in perspective: an STI is a medical condition. You are still the same person that you were before the diagnosis and you are still worthy of love and respect.

If you have specific questions about safer sex or how to deal with an STI diagnosis, check out these resources:

Sexual Wellness Specialists (formerly CHECS)

UNC Campus Health Counseling and Psychological Services

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