Many of us are sexually active, this puts us at an increased risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) especially if we don’t use condoms, have multiple sex partners or have a partner with multiple sex partners.
Condoms aren’t a foolproof way to avoid STIs but when used regularly and correctly it can be very effective. In this post we will not be talking about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
According to the WHO each year there are ≈357 million new infections with either chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. One of the unfortunate things however, is that a lot of times these infections go unnoticed because they may have no signs or symptoms. As such, it is important to get tested regularly for the most common STIs.
There are many directions for me to go with this post, but I would like to speak to those persons who have been diagnosed and treated for a curable STI such as the four mentioned about. In other posts, I will explore other avenues.
Being diagnosed with an STI can be a shameful experience, it can affect your self esteem and body image. While there are persons who will get treated and move on with life untroubled, there are others who will be greatly affected.
An STI is like any other contagious illness or disease, you just catch these through sexual acts, these being oral, vaginal and anal sex. There is stigma associated with these illnesses, and persons may perpetuate negativity around those who have or have had an STI. Having a STI doesn’t mean you’re dirty, broken or lesser than. You may have made some poor choices or you might even have gotten it in an exclusive relationship. STIs don’t actively seek out a specific type of person, so no one is too good, too rich or too holy to not get one. The only sure way to avoid getting an STI is through abstinence, and the second best is through careful and protected sex.
So I think I’ve done enough preaching on the importance of safe sex.
Since these four STIs can present without any symptoms, it should be a habit to get routinely tested for STIs once sexually active. Most places offer a group of the most common STIs and will of course include HIV. It is also important to speak with your partner about STIs and STI testing.
If you test positive, it might be second nature to harbour negative thoughts towards yourself and your partner. You may also be shocked and in total disbelief. Ideally, you should be counselled about your diagnosis and be offered the treatment options. These four are curable, and with some medication you’ll be good as new again. Always remember to share this information with your partner(s) so that they can get tested too.
No one seems to talk about what happens after diagnosis, treatment and cure. We brush it off and say it’s okay, its curable. But for some persons it may change there entire perspective on sex and on themselves. Especially with the stigma around STIs, the immediate shame can make some look at themselves differently and think less of themselves. This is unfortunate really, as an STI doesn’t make anyone lesser than. For some it may affect their sex life, they may feel uncomfortable or afraid of sex. Or may even feel as though their genitalia is different, it may feel or smell different. A lot of this is in the mind. However, we know the impact that mental health can have on us physically, so we shouldn’t dismiss these thoughts and feelings.
Reassurance that you’re not broken and this could happen to anyone is important. Illnesses don’t have the capacity to seek out and choose who they want to infect. They are not concerned with who you are or what you do. All we have are factors that increase your risk of getting a disease, but even then, persons with all the risk factors don’t get a disease and persons with none of the risk factors get a disease.
It is important to not blame yourself (or your partner) forever, and simply acknowledge and accept the fact that this happened and use it as a learning opportunity. Dwelling on the what ifs and the could have, should have and would have’s won’t change anything. Learn from the experience, and move forward with lifestyle changes which may include ending a relationship/ situationship, using condoms more, changing particular sexual practices and so on. What you do 100% depends on the circumstances in which you got the disease.
If you’re afraid to have sex because of the fear of an STI, take your time. Don’t have sex until you’re comfortable again. Your sex drive and appetite may be affected. It will take time to heal emotionally.
It’s okay not bounce back to your usual self immediately, taking time to reflect and see what behaviours you can improve on is normal.
When To Seek Help
When the diagnosis is drastically affecting your life in such a way that your self esteem and self image are negatively affected or you have terrible anxiety towards sex. It’s time to seek help. This may be a simple visit to your general practitioner or gynaecologist for reassurance. Or you may need to see a therapist.
It is okay to need help, like many illnesses, a diagnosis of a (curable) STI can affect your life and sexual practices. It is when those effects limit your ability to function and go about your daily activities that the need for outside help is important and there is no shame in getting outside help.
This isn’t a topic we speak about a lot, and I hope that those of you who have been or are affected by any of these 4 STIs feel encouraged to move forward in life with a changed outlook on your diagnosis. I know that there are persons who’s outlook on sex has been affected negatively and that’s not something I can change immediately with one post.
Depending on who you are, self reassurance may be enough, but if you need professional help don’t think that you are silly or being ridiculous. They are trained to help you, don’t be afraid to use the services.
This post focused on those who got STIs through consensual sex, for those who were affected because of sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape. My heart is with you and I encourage you to process what has happened on your own terms and with professional help from someone you are comfortable with. Healing will be dynamic and individualised so its important that things are done at your own pace.
Samantha C. Johnson