One of the questions I most often receive in e-mail is "I think that I might have an STD. What should I do now?"
That may be a hard question to ask, but it's a very simple one to answer. You follow the steps below.
If you think you might have an STD, and you are currently involved in a sexual relationship, it is your responsibility to protect both yourself and your partner from further infection. While ideally that means talking to your partner about why you're worried, getting tested, and potentially abstaining from sexual activity until you both know what's up, that may not be feasible for everyone. What you can do, however, is start practicing safer sex -- if you haven't already been doing so. Safer sex may not be foolproof, particularly for diseases that spread skin to skin, but it will generally reduce the risk of transmitting any infection you have.
Note: You should start practicing safer sex even if you think you might have already exposed your partner to an STD. Not every disease is transmitted every time you have sex, so it is never too late to start being safe.
It's much better to know whether or not you have an STD than to think you might have one. Therefore, the best thing to do when you are worried that you might have an STD is to find out whether or not you're right.
The only way to know for certain if you have an STD is to get tested -- you can't find out over e-mail, or by looking at pictures online. You have to visit a doctor, a public agency, or a clinic, and when you go, you should:
- Tell your doctor why you think you have an STD (e.g., a former partner contacted you; you have symptoms).
- Tell your doctor when you think you might have been exposed to the STD.
- Tell your doctor the last time you were tested, and confirm what they are going to test you for.
It is important to remember that it can sometimes take some time after exposure for certain STD tests to become accurate -- they cannot always detect an infection right away. Therefore, if you may have been recently exposed to HIV or another disease that is detected through antibody screening, your doctor may ask you to come back for a repeat test in a couple of months.
If you are diagnosed with a bacterial STD, it is important to complete the full treatment regimen that your doctor prescribes for you -- even if you feel better before it is finished. Not taking all of your antibiotics increases your risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection that will be much harder to treat in the future.
In addition, if you are currently involved in a sexual relationship, it is generally a good idea to refrain from having sex until both you and your partner have completed treatment. Otherwise, you risk passing the infection back and forth between each other rather than being cured.
If you are diagnosed with an incurable viral STD, you will want to have a long talk with your doctor about how you can best manage your infection -- both for reducing your own symptoms and lowering the risk of transmitting the virus to a new partner. These are diseases you can live long, happy, sexual lives with, but they do require management and care -- both for your body and your relationships.
Once you've been diagnosed with an STD, it's important to let any current sexual partners know that they may have been exposed to the infection as well, so that they too can undergo testing and treatment. However, it's also a good idea to reach out to any recent partners, even though you are no longer sleeping with them, because they could also be at risk.
While talking to former partners can be difficult, you can always choose to use one of the online services that allows you to send anonymous e-mail to someone letting them know that you, a former sexual partner, have been diagnosed with an STD (tell them which one, so they know what to get tested for). It may not be as polite as reaching out directly, but the important thing is that your former partners learn they are at risk -- not how they learn they are at risk.