Let’s talk about sexually transmitted infections!
As some of you may or may not know, April is STD Awareness Month. I’m going to assume most of you are aware of STDs. If you had a US sex education, you probably saw some pretty gnarly pictures. But despite this awareness, there are still so many myths and misconceptions out there surrounding sexually transmitted infections/diseases. So today I’m going to break down some of those.
Myth #1: If you have an STI, you’ll know it.
Despite what you might think from those aforementioned pictures, STIs do not always express themselves as noticeable skin lesions or abnormal discharge. In fact, they’re frequently asymptomatic or have ambiguous symptoms that can be overlooked or mistaken for other ailments. There’s a reason STIs are referred to as “the hidden epidemic” — because most people who have them have no idea. That’s why it’s so important to get tested because asymptomatic STIs can still be spread to others, and some STIs, if left untreated, can lead to more serious illness or damage to the body down the line.
Myth #2: If your STI tests come back negative, you definitely don’t have an STI.
I do want to stress that STI testing is exceptionally reliable for most STIs, but you have to have all the facts. If you go in and say, “Give me the STI tests, doc,” it’s important that you find out what they’re actually testing you for. Doctors often don’t test for herpes, for example, unless you’re already showing symptoms or you specifically request it. There’s also currently no way to test for HPV in people designated male at birth, but those people can still get HPV.
Furthermore, STIs can take awhile to become detectable. If you have sex and then run in for testing the next day, the tests probably aren’t going to catch anything, even if you did get an STI. In general, it’s recommended that you get tested 3 weeks after possible exposure and then get retested 3 months later, though some STIs can take even longer. If you know you’ve been exposed to a specific STI, contact your doctor or local clinic to find out how soon they recommend you come in based on the detection rates of the test they use.
Myth #3: An STI will ruin your entire life.
Probably not. If diagnosed early, bacterial and parasitic infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis can be easily treated with antibiotics. You shouldn’t have sex while you have them, but they can be completely cured within a couple of weeks.
Herpes can be treated with antiviral medications as needed — meaning when you have an active outbreak or when you’re planning to have sex with someone and want to lessen the risk of transmission. After a person’s first herpes outbreak, recurrent ones are generally mild and become even milder and less frequent over time. Many people with herpes only have a few outbreaks over the course of their lifetime.
HPV (the human papilloma virus) can be serious since some strains can cause cancer, but the majority of HPV infections have no harmful effects or only minor symptoms like genital warts and go away on their own without the need for medication. HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active people will get it at some point in their lives.
HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) is a little bit trickier, but if it’s diagnosed early and effectively treated with antiretroviral medications, the virus can be managed and folks who have it can live long, normal lives.
For a lot of STI-positive folks, their status is just a mundane reality. In fact, in a lot of cases they say that the stigma surrounding STIs is often worse than the STI itself. STIs are so common — they affect people of all ages, genders, sexualities, races, class backgrounds, and relationship statuses — and we need to stop viewing them as a moral failing or the consequence of irresponsibility.
Like all other infections out there, STIs are just the consequence of interacting with people and the world around us. If we wouldn’t judge someone for getting the flu or meningitis, there’s no reason to judge someone for getting chlamydia or HIV. No reason. None. Zero.
So I hope this was enlightening and helped some of you to better navigate the world of STI misconceptions and stigma. Let me know your thoughts and questions down in the comments.
Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time!