One in six people have herpes. Over 50 percent of sexually active people will contract HPV. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) in the United States. If you have a sexually transmitted infection, fear not—more than half of all people in America will have an STI at some point in their life, according to the American Sexual Health Association.
Despite the commonality of STIs, there is a stigma associated with them. That stigma can make it difficult to talk about your STI, or even to acknowledge having one. Your STI does not have to be a source of shame, however, and with a few tricks, talking about it can be just as painless as discussing STI testing or actually getting tested.
1. Get the right treatment.
The good news: All STIs are treatable. The bad news: Not all are curable. That’s okay, though. Once you receive your test results, your doctor will discuss treatment plans with you. Different STIs need different treatments. Your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to cure chlamydia, or a medication to manage herpes symptoms. Be careful to follow the exact instructions your doctor gives you. And not in the way that you “follow” the project guidelines your professor gives you. Seriously—if you leave chlamydia untreated, you can develop pelvic inflammatory disease, which can eventually cause complications with pregnancy. If you’re still worried about those non-curable STIs, don’t be. One in six adults has herpes—a non-curable STI. The key to handling those types of STIs is to be on a good treatment regimen and to be very honest with your partner.
2. Research and come to terms with it.
Before you talk to anybody else about your STI, you should do your own research. Knowing the correct information about the infection will make it easier to discuss. You’ll be able to bust any myths your partner or friends might have about the infection, and knowing how the STI affects your own body might make you feel more comfortable. Yvonne K. Fulbright, a sex educator, also suggests paying attention to how the STI specifically affects your body, such as when outbreaks occur. This approach will make you feel more in control of your infection.
3. Talk to your current partner(s).
The first person you should tell, aside from any health professionals who treat you, is your current sexual partner, or partners (hey, we don’t judge). Just like when discussing STI testing, make sure to pick the right setting. Have this conversation in a quiet, private area, at a time when neither of you are distracted. Be open and up front about everything. If you’re stressed about talking to your partner, consider rehearsing first with a trusted friend. Encourage your partner to get STI tested, if he or she has not already, as he or she might have contracted the infection as well. If your partner does not get treated for the STI, you two could continue to pass the infection back and forth between each other.
4. Tell past partners.
If you are currently dating or hooking up with someone, be sure to give them a heads up that you’ll be speaking with all of your past hook-ups. It’s the polite thing to do. It’s necessary to tell past partners that you contracted an STI, because they might have been exposed to it (who knows, maybe they gave it to you?) and so they need to get tested. When you actually tell your past partners, do so in person. Do not do so over text, and regardless of how convenient sending a group text sounds, that’s just asking to be screenshotted.
Just like when talking to your current partner, make sure to have this conversation in a private area. Don’t tell them when you pass each other in the student union or at a fraternity party. If you really don’t want to contact any of your one-night-stands or drunken hook-ups, consider an option like inspot.org, which will send an anonymous e-card to someone, telling them to get tested. Be careful with this, though: Inspot requires an email address, and I don’t know of many college students who collect emails from people they meet at the bar.
5. Prepare to tell future partners.
If you have a non-curable STI, you need to tell any future partners before you get intimate. Your partners deserve to know, as it’s a factor that might affect their decision to have sex with you. Just like when telling any of your current or past partners, be direct and honest about your STI. Give your partner time to react, and then have a discussion about it. Also, be understanding. Your partner may want to delay having sex, or they might be comfortable still getting physical, as long as you use a barrier method.
6. Take precautionary measures.
Barrier methods, like condoms and dental dams, can protect against STIs in the future. It’s kind of like how failing a test motivates you to study harder for the next one, so that you’re more prepared—only itchier. Contracting an STI should give you a little extra motivation to use protection in the future. If you need more motivation to use a barrier method, check back next week when we talk about the ins and outs—pun intended—of condoms.