Sexually transmitted infections, while wildly common and relatively easy to treat, come with enormous stigma expressed through fear, shame and anger. Young people account for half of new STI cases, though they rarely get tested and one in two sexually active persons will contract a sexually transmitted infection by age twenty-five. College students make up the core demographic for these medical issues.
So, if you think you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection, these are the steps you should take to protect yourself and others.
1. Don’t Panic
It will be extremely difficult to not jump to conclusions or allow your mind to wander frantically after suspecting you have an STI, but you need to be strong. Panicking will only hinder any efforts to rationally handle a possible diagnosis and prevent you from fully understanding all the information you receive regarding a potential diagnosis. Panicking will also lead to over-searching information about STIs, which will cause you to panic more and potentially get unnecessary and false information; it should go without saying that the internet is not a very reliable source for medical information.
Read up on statistics surrounding STIs to avoid the inevitable panic that accompanies the possibility of having a sexually transmitted infection. Learning about how common they are and how easily they can be treated can potentially quell any initial fear and dread that arises. Also, immediately making an appointment to get tested will likely help dampen the panic as that’s a tangible deadline for when you will get concrete and reliable information.
2. Find a Testing Center
There are a lot of options to choose from to get tested, whether it’s your regular doctor, a doctor in your college’s town, your college’s health center or even a Planned Parenthood clinic. Undoubtedly, where you can get tested will depend on factors such as your insurance plan and your comfort level. If you don’t have insurance, you will be limited to the providers you can see and how much you can bear financially and it will affect where you can go get tested. Your comfort level can also determine where you go to get tested as you may want to go see a doctor who hasn’t been your regular doctor for years or if you’d like to visit a doctor outside your hometown.
No matter your circumstances, there will be a place for you to get tested no matter what. Planned Parenthood, college health centers and doctors all are viable options. It’s also likely you can find low-cost STI testing offered in your city as another testing option.
3. Don’t Let People Shame You
STI shaming has literally existed since ancient times, as getting an STI in Mesopotamian times was considered a punishment by the gods. Because this shame and stigma have existed so long, it’s hard to break out of that cycle when you and the world have been conditioned to view STIs and people who get them in a negative light. While STIs aren’t ideal to contract, they certainly aren’t worthy of the severity and volume of shame and stigma they receive. You also shouldn’t fall victim to buying into the stigma attached to sexually transmitted infections (as easy as that can be).
When getting tested for an STI, you also need to shut down any slut-shaming you receive for potentially having an STI. Contracting an STI can happen to anyone, no matter how many people they’ve slept with. It’s hard, but try to shut down criticism you receive if it arises because it only serves to hurt you.
4. Let Your Former Partners Know About Your Status
If, after testing, you do indeed have an STI, you need to disclose to all of your former partners that could potentially have it as well. It can be an extremely uncomfortable conversation to have, but it’s highly important. The last thing you should want to happen is to have a former partner unknowingly infect other people with an STI. That’s why the conversation needs to happen. You also need to prepare yourself for it by getting all the information necessary to relay to a former partner. The best way to counteract the possible anger of a former partner during this conversation is to give them information about it and be as level-headed as possible.
While you’ll need to disclose your status to former partners, that doesn’t give them a pass to shame you for your sexual activity or for the fact that you have an STI. Shaming someone for their STI status is beyond terrible and only adds to the stigma already attached to STIs. If you start getting attacked, don’t stand for it and end the call if you’ve already let them know they need to get tested.
Treat It Responsibly
Don’t be careless in treating your STI. If you are given a full round of antibiotics, take all of them even if the infection seems to have cleared up beforehand. Follow all your doctor’s instructions and don’t be afraid to follow up if you feel it’s necessary. It may seem like common sense to treat your STI per your doctor’s instructions, but as college students, you can get busy and things can fall by the wayside, especially if any symptoms clear up.
You also need to treat it responsibly because an untreated STI can have long-term health effects such as infertility and an increased risk of contracting HIV. Depending on what kind of STI you have determines what could happen if left untreated, as the two outcomes above are far from the only things that can happen if an STI is left untreated.
Start Getting Tested Regularly
After you treat your STI, you should consider beginning regular STI tests. Getting tested has no negative effects but perhaps financially and can help keep you aware if you contract an STI again. Many STIs exhibit no symptoms, so unless you are getting tested regularly, you may not know if you have an STI.
Getting tested regularly may also help you personally get past the stigma of sexually transmitted infections and perhaps help people around you get past it as well. This doesn’t mean you have to get tested all the time, but setting up an annual or monthly STI test if you’re sexually active is a great way to prioritize your sexual health and protect yourself.