This content has been sponsored by STDCheck.com
*For this article, I have chosen to use STI (sexually transmitted infection) rather than STD (sexually transmitted disease). This is a personal preference and for many people, the terms are interchangeable.
The first time my doctor told me I had an STI, I was flabbergasted. I use condoms and have done more research about STIs than most people have done for their university courses. How did this happen? Did I make a mistake? Did I screw something up? How long have I even had this? How far back do I need to contact my previous sexual partners?
Even as someone who works in sexual health and is a part of a sex positive community, it was challenging to suck it up and do what I knew I needed to do. It was time for me to start making phone calls but so much of me wanted to hide under a blanket and pretend that everything was fine.
In many other aspects of my life, the ignore it until it goes away method can be surprisingly successful. I imagine that for anyone who doesn’t live in this kind of bubble though, it’s even harder to go out and do the right thing. You might fear that people will judge you, think less of you or even be mad at you. Doing the right thing sucks a lot of the time. And yet, we all still have to get up and put on our big girl panties some times.
No one ever wants to deal with having an STI but, it is far from a big deal and doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Everyone who has sex gets them, no matter how careful you might be. The only thing that makes most STIs so horrible is that we don’t talk openly about them so there is a stigmatization.
Having sex is always going to cary at least some degree of risk (which is why people now say ‘safer sex’ rather than ‘safe sex’) but there are at least steps that everyone can take to make sure that they are reducing the risk as much as possible for them and their sexual partners. The first thing is to make sure that you know about sexual health and how different diseases and infections work. For example, do you know if you can get/give gonorrhea from kissing? Can you pass STIs from pre-cum? Can you use all kinds of lubes with latex condoms?
(ANSWERS: yes technically but it’s super duper hard; yes, though slightly less likely; no, using oil based lube will cause the condoms to break down)
For anyone that wants, here is a really great chart of risks broken down by activity.
Then of course, use safer sex barriers. Using condoms for penetration is something you should have learned in high school sex ed but there is a lot more to safer sex than condoms. There are also tools such as dental dams, gloves, or even lube (yes it can totally be classified as a safer sex tool since using lube can help avoid small tears).
Everyone has their own understanding of barriers and what kind of risks they are willing to take in sexual interactions. Some people are fine not using condoms or dental dams for oral sex, while some people would never dream of it. It’s a good idea to know beforehand what your expectations are of safer sex and communicate those expectations or ideas to your partner. Not everyone is going to have your same definition and that’s ok.
The next thing that you can do is to get tested so you always know your safer sex status. This not only keeps you from having to deal with the more serious health consequences resulting from untreated infections but it can also reduces the number of awkward conversations you have to have if something does come up.
Also, knowing your status makes you a better sex partner and isn’t that something we can all get behind? I have gotten to the point now where I find it sexy when a potential partner asks if I know what my sexual health status is. This shows that they are both knowledgeable about safer sex and that they care. Of course STIs can happen at any time to any person but knowing that my partner thinks about things like the spread of infections, allows me to let down one of my guards.
Just like with birth control, when it comes to STI testing there are a number of options out there so you can find the best match for your needs. The most prevalent option if you have health insurance is to just go to your GP or OBGYN. For those without insurance, depending on where you live, there might be resources available at a place like Planned Parenthood.
Another, more recent option for STI testing, sometimes called “at home tests,” are great for a number of reasons. They are particularly great for people who either aren’t comfortable going and talking with their doctor or who maybe live in a place where testing isn’t so easy. There are different kinds of at home tests from companies like STDcheck.com that span from the basic to the fully comprehensive.
These test are not actually done at home, but rather you order the test online and then go and get tested at a near by clinic of your choosing. Pretty much no matter where you live, you can find a testing center near by. A friend of mine just did a test through STDcheck.com and she was able to find two testing centers within a ten minute drive of her home. You just go give them the needed samples then you can log into the system a few days later and get your results.
The only thing to really keep in mind when doing at home tests is that if a test does come up positive, it’s important to relax and not freak out. If you do your test through STDcheck.com and your test comes up positive, there are a network of doctors you can speak with so you can figure out what the next step should be.
Most STIs are really not a big deal and can easily be solved with a few days of antibiotics (and all others can be managed). Of course it’s important to be as safe as possible and make good life choices, but don’t beat yourself up to much. Be kind to yourself and your partner(s). Always use safer sex methods, get tested regularly and talk openly with your partners about their sexual health status.