What to Do If You Think You Have an STD
In a 2015 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that the United States sees 20 million new cases of STDs every year. About half of those are from sexually active youths, age 15 to 24. By the age of 25, it’s estimated that half of all sexually active people will have had a sexually transmitted infection at some point. Nationally, there are over 110 million total infections, both new and existing, at any given time.
The trouble with sexually transmitted infections is that they often do not show symptoms. Many people who are infected might not even know until it is too late. Even when symptoms are apparent, many will ignore them as a form of self-denial, but don’t be scared. Many STDs are curable, while others can be easily managed. So, what should you do if you think you have an STD?
Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases
A sexually transmitted disease is any disease that can be contracted via sexual contact of any form. Many people assume that is only relegated to vaginal intercourse, but it can also include simple kissing, oral sex, anal intercourse, and the use of sex toys. STDs can be caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. STDs are also called STIs (sexually transmitted infections). While the two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference as not all infections progress to a full on disease.
Some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases include:
- Human papillomavirus
- Pubic lice (crabs)
- Hepatitis B
Some Common STD Symptoms
STD symptoms vary from person to person, disease to disease. In many cases, you may not show any symptoms at all, but some common STD symptoms that you might expect include:
- Bumps or sores around the mouth, genitals, or anus
- Swelling and redness around the genitals
- Skin rash
- Itching around the penis or vagina
- Pain or burning sensation when urinating
- Weight loss
- Fever and chills
- Flu-like symptoms
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- White, yellow, or green discharge from the vagina or penis
- Painful intercourse
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina outside of the monthly period
What to Do If You Think You Have an STD
So much as suspecting you have a sexually transmitted infection or disease can be scary and make you feel alone. While you should not ignore potential signs of STD, you definitely should not panic. Sexually transmitted diseases are more common than you think, mainly because sex, and any diseases surrounding it, are still taboo.
Furthermore, most sexually transmitted diseases are curable. Herpes, HIV, and other STDs that aren’t curable have treatment plans to manage symptoms and prevent progression to more serious stages. These will impact your life, but you can still live a full, healthy life.
Because many sexually transmitted diseases do not have immediate or obvious symptoms, the best thing to do is to get screened or tested for STDs. You should be tested for sexually transmitted infections if you:
- Had unprotected sex with anyone
- Started having sex with a new partner
- Are having sex with multiple partners
You should get regular testing for certain sexually transmitted diseases based on various factors.
- For chlamydia and gonorrhea, sexually active women under the age of 25 and men who have sex with other men should be tested once a year.
- You should get tested for HIV at least once in your life between ages 15 and 65.
- Women should be screened for HPV along with their normal Pap test every five years. Women between 21 and 30 will often be recommended an HPV test if they receive any abnormal results from a Pap test.
Tests differ based on what’s being screened. Many involve swabs, blood samples, and urine tests. Some may involve pelvic exams. Home testing is becoming more popular, giving you the opportunity to collect samples in the comfort of your own home, but this can also lead to contamination and false-positive or false-negative results. If you want truly accurate results, definitely consider speaking with a doctor. A few moments of discomfort are better than dealing with more serious problems down the line.
Along with closure and peace of mind, getting tested will set you up for potential treatments in the future. Remember that the sooner you can detect an STD, the less you’ll suffer and the more effective the STD treatment will be.
Testing Positive and Receiving STD Treatment
After testing and waiting, your results may come back positive. It can be daunting and intimidating. You might feel angry, afraid, or ashamed, but remember that you did the right thing by getting tested. If you do test positive, you may require further tests and evaluations to determine the exact disease and how far it has progressed.
In terms of treatment, most bacterial infections can be treated using antibiotics. Definitely do not try to treat any STDs on your own. See your doctor. Do not take someone else’s medication to treat your infection. This can lead to harmful side effects and make your infection harder to treat. If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure you take the full course of the treatment, even if the symptoms subside earlier. This ensures that the infecting bacteria is completely neutralized from your system.
Viral infections generally don’t have cures, but medication can make them easier to manage. Genital herpes, for instance, stays in your system for life, but antiviral medication can help to reduce the severity of any potential outbreaks. If you experience frequent outbreaks, your doctor may prescribe daily medication for suppressive therapy.
HIV often requires antiretroviral therapy. This often involves a mix of several drugs designed to slow the virus down and prevent it from growing out of control. Slowing down HIV slows down the potential for disease.
Talking with Your Partner
One of the hardest parts of having an STD is telling your partner. It’s scary and worrisome, but it’s also necessary to protect your partner’s health and wellbeing.
- Some sexually transmitted diseases can actually lead to fertility problems later in life if left untreated.
- If left untreated, some STDs can be life threatening.
- Even if you’ve been treated for your STD, you may end up infecting yourself again by having sex with your untreated partner.
Once you’ve told your partner, make sure your partner is tested for sexually transmitted infections and receive any necessary treatment.
Telling your current partner can be difficult, so here are some things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t immediately question your trust in your partner. Infidelity isn’t always the reason for suddenly contracting an STD. Remember that symptoms don’t always show up. You or your partner may have picked it up from a previous, long-past relationship.
- Be honest. They might be angry or upset, but understand that that reaction often comes from fear.
- Listen to your partner’s concerns and potential fears. Offer information about the STD and its symptoms or point them to a reliable source for information (a doctor, for instance).
- Assuming you and your partner are having sex, avoid it until you can both get properly tested and treated.
- After you’ve been diagnosed and believe you’ve had the sexually transmitted infection for a long time, tell previous sexual partners and inform them that they should also get tested.
Talking with Future Partners
You’re hitting it off with a new partner, and you’re ready to take the relationship to a new level. It’s nerve-wracking, but you need to tell your future partner if you have an STD. Everyone approaches it differently, so here are some tips:
- Be direct. Tell them that you have an STD, what type of STD you have, and how you contracted it. This doesn’t mean getting into every gritty detail, but you should be open and understanding. Answer any questions they might have. This not only gets your information across, but also helps your new partner feel more comfortable and open with you.
- Be honest. Rumors may start. However, wherever your relationship goes, your new partner will respect your privacy more if they feel that you’ve respected them. It’s better for you to tell them upfront than for them to wake up with an infection.
- Imagine the roles reversed. If you reversed the roles, you could understand your new partner’s initial fears, but you can also see them being proud of you and developing greater trust and respect.
- Let it be a conversation. Don’t feel that it needs to be a one-sided lecture. Listen to what your partner has to say and understand that everyone reacts differently. Just roll with the punches and let it be natural.
- Don’t put any pressure on decisions about the relationship or sex. You may want immediate reassurance for revealing something so personal, but not everyone knows how to immediately react. Give the person some space and some time to think about what you said.
- Encourage questions. Sexually transmitted diseases generally aren’t common knowledge. There’s plenty of misguided information out there. Give your partner facts about your specific STD, its potential symptoms, and whether or not it can be treated. If you have an article or pamphlet to share, even better. If you don’t know the answer to the question, don’t worry. Search online or, more reliably, talk to a doctor together to learn all the proper facts.
The only true way to prevent any sexually transmitted infection is to be abstinent, and it’s completely okay if you and your partner decide to abstain from sex. There are plenty of other ways to be intimate and express your emotions. However, you can still maintain a healthy, active sex life even if you do have a sexually transmitted infection.
The most important thing you can do is to practice safe sex. It’s never too late to be safer about sex, and one of the main keys to safe sex is using protection. Learn to use a condom properly and wear one every time you have sex. Use a water-based lubrication to prevent irritation and micro-tears in the vagina or rectum. These tears allow easy entry for STIs into your bloodstream. Avoid oil-based lubes, like lotion and petroleum jelly, which react with latex and make it much easier for the condom to break.
You can also use condoms on sex toys, but if you choose not to, make sure you thoroughly clean them before and after every use. Use dental dams when performing oral sex, and consider wearing gloves when performing any manual stimulation.
After sex, make sure you thoroughly clean your genital area. Try to pee soon after having sex to flush out any bacteria that may have made its way into your system.
Above all, make sure you maintain open communication before, during, and after intercourse. Tell each other what you like and what’s off limits. This keeps things fun and satisfying while limiting the potential for sexually transmitted infections.