For Glamour, by Suzannah Weiss.
April is Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month, which makes it a great time to think about what you would do if you contracted an STI — after all, around half of the human population will get one at some point. While that might seem a little scary, it also means that testing positive shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment or instant panic. Most STIs are treatable if you manage them properly, says Anne Hodder, a sex and relationship coach who teaches about STIs with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.
But once you find out you’ve got one, it’s hard to know how to start handling it responsibly. If your health care clinic (or at-home test) reveals you’ve contracted an STI, here are the first steps to take to make sure you’re keeping yourself and your partners safe.
1. See a doctor.
Ask your doctor or another health care provider (like someone from Planned Parenthood) every question you can think of. Don’t hold back — they’ve heard everything. Also, ask where you can look online if more questions come up. Hodder recommends the sites for Planned Parenthood, the CDC, and Scarleteen.
“Do your best not to self-diagnose or fall down the Internet spiral, because there is a sea of misinformation, harmful and shaming rhetoric, and factually inaccurate information out there about STIs and treatment,” she says. “So save yourself the trouble and stick to professional advice.” If you feel like your doctor is being judgmental, find another one or join an online forum for support.
“Ask your doctor or another health care provider (like someone from Planned Parenthood) every question you can think of.”
2. Get treatment right away..
A lot of STIs get worse — and spread more frequently — if you wait to treat them. If you don’t take care of HPV right away, for instance, it could lead to cervical cancer, and some STIs can decrease your fertility. So head to the drugstore ASAP once you have a prescription. Viral STIs like herpes and HPV aren’t curable, but they are treatable, and bacterial ones like gonorrhea and chlamydia can usually be cured with antibiotics.
Even if your symptoms go away, you still need to strictly follow the treatment plan your health care provider prescribes. “Absence of symptoms does not mean the STI is gone,” says Hodder, “and some STIs don’t present with overtly obvious symptoms, anyhow.” You should also do all the things you normally would to take care of your body, like sleeping and eating well, because STIs clear faster when you’re in good health.
3. Tell your partners ASAP.
Your partners won’t necessarily have your STI, but anyone you’ve had sexual contact since you last tested negative could have gotten it. Out of respect for them, let them know about your results. “Start with the facts and only the facts: your test came back positive for an STI and there is a chance that they might have come in contact with it,” says Hodder. “Then tell them that the only way for them to know for sure is to get tested. Conjecture or ‘I’m sure you’re fine’ comments will not be helpful in the long run, so avoid them. Your best bet is to ask them something like, ‘How can I support you right now? What can I do to help?’ and give them the space to communicate their needs and feelings.”
If you absolutely can’t muster up the courage to divulge this information, there’s an app for that. The anonymous STD test notification tool STDcheck.com can tell someone they may have an STD without revealing who it could be from. While this kind of potentially upsetting news would probably be best coming directly from you, the most important thing is that they’re notified. Period.
4. Practice safe sex.
Hold off on having sex until you’ve talked to a professional. After that, use condoms and dental dams or abstain from sex until a bacterial STI is gone. If you’ve got an STI that can’t be cured, it’s more easily spread when you have a sore or another open infection, so some couples just use barriers or abstain during those times. But you can also spread the virus when you don’t have any symptoms, so avoid unprotected sex. Talk to new partners before you sleep with them and figure out an arrangement you both agree on. There’s no single right way to handle this scenario — it just depends on what you’re both comfortable with.
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