The truth is that you can do everything “right” and still test positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Just as the pandemic is indiscriminate, STIs also spread among those of all ages and backgrounds – often without people knowing. That being said, navigating conversations with your partner can feel scary. Negative self-talk can take over internally. And coping with the unknowns of what may come next can feel overwhelming. Read on for our best tips on how to handle a positive STI diagnosis.
What to Do If You're Diagnosed with an STI
1. Get Treated
Your number one priority when you are diagnosed with an STI is to work with your primary care doctor, OB/GYN, or other medical provider to treat the infection. You may be prescribed an oral or topical medication, and depending on a number of factors, it may be a one-time treatment or an ongoing part of your intimate health.
While you're at the doctor's office, be sure to ask any and all questions you have about your diagnosis. If you have a sense ahead of time that you might be testing positive (perhaps you've had symptoms), you can even write a short list and bring it with you to your appointment. It may seem like an uncomfortable subject, but doctors are professionals and they have likely heard questions like yours many times before. Read our article about the most common STIs and their treatments.
2. Talk with Your Partner
Disclosing your status with your partner (or partners) is frankly just about as important as treating your infection and it should happen as soon as possible. This will not be the easiest conversation you and your partner have. You might be worried about where the infection came from or suspect dishonesty from your partner. You may even feel ashamed that you didn't know about your own positive status. But it's worth keeping in mind a few key points:
- STIs are extraordinarily prevalent - 1 in 5 people are impacted.
- It is possible (even likely in some cases) to have an STI and show no signs or symptoms.
- You can be tested and have an STI go undetected.
Therefore, it's best to try to reserve any judgment, blame, or accusations. Healthy sexual relationships are shaped by the openness and vulnerability we bring to them. Click to read our 3 Tips for Discussing STIs with Your Partner. One final part of the conversation should be about your partner getting tested. Before you both engage in sexual activity again, it's important to be sure they don't also have the infection and require treatment.
3. Practice Safe Sex
When you're being treated for an STI, you will either need to use barrier protection (like a condom or dental dam) or abstain from sex altogether, and your medical provider should let you know which option is best for you during your appointment. This will depend on the type of infection you have, the medication you're using, whether you have open sores or lesions, and/or how easily you can spread the STI. What if you haven't had an appointment yet? Abstain from sexual activity until you know for sure how to proceed safely.
4. Be Kind to Yourself
In addition to the physical symptoms you might experience with an STI, you may also feel a heavy emotional weight after hearing this news. It is not uncommon to feel embarrassment, engage in negative self-talk, or blame yourself. This is due in large part to the fact that STIs are wrapped up with a tremendous amount of stigma in our culture. But it doesn't have to be this way. You can turn those moments of negativity around by intentionally showing yourself kindness and compassion in the ways you talk to yourself. You can also tap into the resources and tools you lean on during other times of difficulty, such as journaling, speaking with a friend, loved one, or counselor, or reflecting through meditation or spiritual means.
How to Safely Date When You’re STI Positive
So, you are STI-positive and ready to start dating. How do you do this safely? Public health experts recommend that all singles have up-to-date test results to share with potential partners – regardless of what they think their status is. Additionally, a good rule for any couple is to have the STI conversation well ahead of the moment when you want to get intimate. This could be early on when you're messaging in a dating app or during your first date. It is essential to bring this up early to avoid possible heartache down the road or feel overwhelmed by the heat of the moment.
There are currently four STIs that cannot be cured, although they can be successfully managed through medications. These include herpes, HIV, HPV, and hepatitis B. Others like chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis may require longer treatment that should also be discussed when you're meeting new people. Of course if you have any of these infections, your potential partner may be exposed to it and this requires a serious consideration on their part about whether they accept this risk. Millions of couples, however, choose to move forward with barrier protection and eventually without, given the many effective treatments available today.
Meeting Singles with STIs
Whether you want to date someone who practices the same religion, eats a similar diet, or has similar interests, there is probably a dating app for you. And those who test positive for STIs are no exception. Searching for a new partner on apps like Positive Singles and HDate can help alleviate one of your biggest fears: being turned down because of your status.
Finding a Community
Another way to feel more empowered about your health and connected to others who are STI-positive is to tap into communities like Something Positive for Positive People that are leading the charge against STI stigma or active threads on Reddit dedicated to those with a positive status. Lastly, we recommend our friend Dr. Ina Park's new book Strange Bedfellows: Adventures in the Science, History, and Surprising Secrets of STDs. Dr. Park also recently joined our CEO Wendy's podcast to talk about STI stigma.
It isn't an easy process to come to terms with an STI-positive status, but there is a freedom and confidence that can come along with owning your status and how you honor that with your partner.