Fear Of STIs Is Real, But Move Past It With These Expert Tips
Despite the fact that science around STIs has come a long way, because of the perpetual stigma surrounding these infections, many people still have a fear of STIs. While it’s logical to fear something you don’t fully understand, the problem with this particular brand of stigma is that it sometimes prevents people from getting regular STI screenings, because they’re too scared to get the results. Although all STIs are treatable and most are curable, if an STI isn't diagnosed promptly, it can have devastating results. Because of this, being scared of STIs needs to be nipped in the bud.
"There are still a lot of myths and misunderstandings about having an STI," June Gupta, MSN, a board-certified women's health nurse practitioner and associate director of medical standards at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells Bustle. "It’s important to remember that having an STI doesn’t make you any less good, valuable, or worthy of love. Your status doesn’t make you 'clean' or 'dirty.' Everyone deserves to have their sex life be healthy, happy, and free from shame and stigma."
Although letting go of what scares you isn't likely to happen overnight, if you take a moment to recognize what you're fearing and why, you might have a better chance of letting go.
Here are seven things to realize in order to help combat those STI fears.
1. STIs Are Not The End Of The World
For those who fear STIs, to even fathom such a diagnosis can feel like the end of the world. But it's important to realize it's far from such a dire situation. Like, really far from it.
“Any diagnosis of an STI can be frightening/upsetting/insert-other-not-good-feeling, but it is not the end of the world," Dr. Megan Stubbs, EdD, a sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle. "I feel like I say that so often, but it really is the case."
For example, all STIs are treatable, even the STIs that aren't curable. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, genital warts can be removed in the doctor's office, and the majority of HPV strains go away on their own. As for herpes, hepatitis, and HIV, these STIs can be managed with medication.
With this in mind, a diagnosis shouldn't been seen as a catastrophe. Instead, it's something to deal with — like any other health diagnosis.
2. STIs Won't Ruin Your Sex Life
While it might seem like being diagnosed with an STI could ruin your sex life, the reality is that it won't. In fact, people with STI diagnoses still have very happy and healthy sex lives.
"Bacterial infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are treatable with antibiotics and, if caught early enough, do not cause long-term damage," Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board certified OB-GYN and author of Yes, I Have Herpes, tells Bustle. "Lifelong infections such as HIV, and hepatitis B and C are well managed with medication as long as appropriate follow up is completed."
And as someone who, as her book title suggests, was diagnosed with herpes, Dr. Loanzon is speaking from both a professional and personal standpoint.
"As a single woman dating, I have actually found that after disclosure it has not made a difference to my partners what my positive status was," Dr. Loanzon says. "They would like to get to know me as a person."
3. You Didn't Do Anything "Wrong" To Get An STI
Even if you've stayed on top of your sexual health, always used condoms, and been as safe as possible, that doesn't mean that you can't contract an STI.
"[A myth] is that you are safe as long as you use a condom," Dr. Susan Bard, dermatologist, tells Bustle. Not only are condoms not 100% foolproof, but neither are your sex toys. Bacteria can stay on sex toys, making them vehicles for STIs, and condoms, although effective in decreasing chances of transmission, don't prevent what can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
"Another fact that individuals may not be aware of is that you can also transmit STIs through inanimate objects such as sex toys," Dr. Bard says.
That's why it's so damn important you clean your sex toys properly, especially if you're using them with multiple partners. The best way to do that is to clean your toys with soap and hot water, followed by sex toy cleaner that disinfects.
4. Try Talking About STIs
As is the case with anything that's surrounded by stigma and fear, the more we talk about it, the easier it is to accept it. Although it may seem difficult at first, the more we talk about STIs, the more we'll help strip the taboo from them.
“By ignoring our sexual health, we have enabled a generation of [people] with more STIs than ever before,” Meika Hollender, co-founder of condom company Sustain, tells Bustle. “And if you think that you're not at risk because of where you live, who you sleep with, or your demographics, think again. It’s time for all of us to talk about sex and safe sex more openly and honestly, because STIs can be life changing.”
Simply, we can't ignore something that's a reality for so many people.
5. Sometimes You Won't Even Show Any Symptoms Of An STI
Although those who fear STIs might immediately associate contracting one with sores, genital warts, and other symptoms, the truth is that not everyone exhibits symptoms of STIs. Chlamydia has little to no symptoms, and HPV, unless you have that strain that causes genital warts, is asymptomatic as well. Because of this, it's important to get regular STI screenings.
"While some STIs can cause symptoms such as sores or vaginal and penile discharge, others do not cause symptoms or only periodically cause symptoms," Dr. Sangini S. Sheth, an OB/GYN at Yale Medicine, tells Bustle.
Just because everything looks a-OK on the outside, doesn't mean the same can be said about the inside too.
6. Know You're Not Alone If You're Diagnosed With An STI
According to a 2017 report by the Center for Disease Control, both chlamydia and gonorrhea are “common,” with 1.7 million and over 500,000 cases a year, respectively. HPV remains the the most common STI, with a whopping 80% of sexually active people who will contract it at some point in their lives. As for genital herpes, in the U.S., one out of every six people ages 14 to 49 has it.
Although not everyone is likely to talk about an STI diagnosis, it's still important to realize you're not the first, you're certainly not the last, and you're probably in good company.
7. STIs Are Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
Not only are you not alone if you get an STI diagnosis, but it really is nothing for which anyone should be shamed or ashamed.
"Getting an STI or having a partner with an STI is extremely common," Gupta says. "Anyone who ever has vaginal, anal, or oral sex could get an STI. Having an STI is a common result of close contact with other people and is not something anyone should be shamed or judged for."
And if someone does judge you, then chalk it up to ignorance and lack of education. So take a moment to inform them that, hey, this is totally fine and totally common. If you're going to have an active sex life, it's a risk you take — a risk we all take.
While fearing things is totally human, there are so many other things besides STIs that warrant fear. The first step in tackling anything that scares you is by educating yourself and understanding that the fear in question might not be necessary after all.