A common misconception about people who have contracted an STD is that they are damaged. In fact, the stigma surrounding STDs is so pervasive, most people get diagnosed and think they’ll never have a romantic relationship again, and that’s simply not the case. Tons of people contract STDs every year, some short-term, some long-term. In fact, more than half of all sexually active people contract an STD by the age of 25, and as you get older, that statistic gets bigger. Even though so many people have had an STD at some point in their lives, STDs are steeped in shame and fear because we don’t talk about our sexual health very often.

Taking a holistic view

Your sexual health is not determined by a negative STD test, but rather by how you treat yourself and your partners.

When we think about sexual health, we often view it as being synonymous with the words safer sex or STD-negative, and that’s inaccurate. Sexual health is much broader and has very little to do with infection at all. The more comprehensive definition of sexual health includes being educated about one’s risk and how to reduce those risks and making consensual decisions with your partner(s) about your body so you are able to enjoy a healthier body, a satisfying sexual life, positive relationships and peace of mind. That’s why you can have an STD and still be a sexually healthy person — people like me do it all of the time.

Recognizing life’s risks

Even when you are sexually healthy and choosing to regularly incorporate safer sex practices (like using condoms and getting tested) into your sexual routines, sometimes you still contract an unwanted infection. That’s because all activities contain some level of risk. Just like driving to work or swimming in the ocean has a component of risk, so do all partnered sexual activities. And just like getting into an accident on the road or getting stung by a jellyfish in the ocean shouldn’t make you automatically unhealthy, irresponsible or undesirable, neither should contracting an STD. Your sexual health is not determined by a negative STD test, but rather by how you treat yourself and your partners, and only you can know for sure if you’ve done your best.