Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are much more common than you probably think, with an estimated 20 million new cases each year in the United States. One STI, the human papillomavirus (HPV), is so prevalent that experts believe almost everyone who has sex will have HPV at some point (though most never know). Having an STI means one thing: you’re normal. Keep in mind most STIs can be cured and all can be treated.
1. Listen to your health care provider
Bacterial STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — can indeed be cured. Take all the medications your health care provider (HCP) gives you, even if you never had symptoms or begin to feel better before finishing your course of treatment. It’s also a good idea not to have sex until you and your partner(s) have all been checked and treated. With viral STIs like herpes and HIV, there’s no cure but there are treatment options to manage them effectively. Talk to your HCP about options and take charge of your health. Also, depending on your exact diagnosis, your provider may want to see you again soon for a check-up, so make time in your busy schedule for that.
2. Make sure you’re heard, too
If there’s anything you don’t understand about your diagnosis, speak up. You might want to talk about safer sex and how to reduce your risk for STIs. Also ask if there are other STI tests you should have. What about vaccines? See if vaccination against HPV and hepatitis B is a good idea for you.
3. Get chatting
Talk with your partner about sexual health. Really TALK. Safer sex, contraception and STI testing are all great things to put on the agenda, sure, but also talk about other aspects of your relationship: what feels good (and what doesn’t); what you’re comfortable doing; and how your sex life can enhance your overall life together. It all fits together, and communication goes a long way in realizing the sexual health and pleasure you so richly deserve. Find sexual health resources for every stage of your life at ASHAsexualhealth.org.
Fred Wyand, Director of Communications, American Sexual Health Association, [email protected]