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Finding out you have a sexually transmitted infection (and that you may have passed it to other people) is no fun. But try to remember that a lot of people — we’re talking millions and millions — have been through this. STIs are VERY common, and most of us will get at least one over the course of our lives. Take a breath — you can handle this.

If you have STI symptoms, think you were exposed to an STI, feel like you might have one but aren’t sure, or it’s just been awhile since you last got tested, here’s your to-do list:

  • Get tested ASAP. Testing is the only way to know if you have an STI and what STI you have. Some STIs have similar symptoms, some STI symptoms can look like other things (like pimples or yeast infections), and sometimes you have no symptoms at all. So getting tested is a must, but don’t worry — most of the time it’s quick, easy, and totally painless. Wondering where to get tested for STIs? Your local Planned Parenthood health center is a great place to start.
     
  • Stop having sex until you get your test results.
     
  • If your tests come back positive, your nurse or doctor will tell you what to do next — make sure you follow all of their directions. The type of treatment you need depends on the type of STI you have.
     
  • If you have a curable STI (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis):
    • These infections will go away completely with simple medicines like antibiotics.
    • Make sure you follow your nurse or doctor’s directions and take ALL of your medicine, even if you have no symptoms or you start to feel better before you finish your medicine.
    • Don’t have any sexual contact until you finish all of your medicine (even with condoms — no sex at all).
    • Same goes for your partner(s): they’ll need to get tested, get treatment, and avoid sex until they’re in the clear, too (even if they don’t have symptoms). If they don’t get treatment, you could pass the STI back and forth to each other.
       
  • If you have an incurable STI (like herpes, HIV, genital warts, and hepatitis B):
    • These infections stick around in your body for life, but try not to panic — there are plenty of treatments that can help you live a healthy life, ease symptoms, and avoid passing the infection to other partners.
    • Some of these STIs — like herpes and genital warts — can be annoying, but they aren’t dangerous and don’t cause serious health problems. Many people only have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
    • Some of these STIs — like HIV and hepatitis B — can eventually lead to serious health problems if you don’t get treatment. But there are medicines that can help you live a long, healthy life.
    • Talk with your nurse or doctor about a treatment plan that can keep you and your partner(s) healthy.
       
  • Contact the people you’ve had sex with and let them know that they should get tested too. If you’re not sure which partners you need to tell, your nurse or doctor can help you figure it out. For a lot of people, this is the toughest part of getting an STI, but it’s really important — here are some tips to help. And if you’re totally dreading the thought of spreading this news, there’s a website that lets you do it anonymously.
     
  • Try to avoid fighting with partners or blaming each other. STIs don’t automatically mean someone cheated or lied about their status — whoever gave it to you might not have even known they had an infection. And it can be hard to know exactly when someone got an STI because most people don’t have symptoms, so they can have STIs for years without realizing it.
     
  • Make a safer sex plan moving forward— like commiting to using protection, getting tested regularly, and communicating honestly with partners — to lower your chances that you’ll have to deal with this stuff in the future.
     
  • If you’re really struggling with your diagnosis, ask your nurse or doctor if they can help you find a therapist, counselor, or support group.

Obviously none of this is anybody’s idea of a good time, but doing these things can make you feel more in control, which can help ease some of the anxiety you might have right now.

Last but not least, go easy on yourself. Sh*t happens, and having an STI doesn’t say anything about you as a person — it’s a normal human experience. Even if it doesn’t seem like it now, you’re not alone, and you’re going to be OK

Tags: GYT, safer sex, STD testing, STDs, StI Awareness Month, stigma, STIs