Help! I have an STI. What do I do?
First, take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for having the courage to admit you've contracted a sexually transmitted infection. That's not easy in a culture that stigmatizes virtually all aspects of sexuality. By facing the reality of your infection you've taken the first step in caring for your health and the health of your partner(s).
Your doctor can give you practical information, such as:
- whether any of your recent lovers/partners should come in for testing and/or treatment,
- how long it will take for the infection to clear up,
- what you can do to reduce transmission,
- the length of the incubation period.
Why is the incubation period important?
The incubation period is the time lapse between exposure to a pathogen and when symptoms first appear—if symptoms will appear. Some STI's have no easily discernible symptoms. Knowing the incubation period of your particular STI is very important, because you may have passed the infection on to anyone you had sexual contact with during that period. You are ethically bound to inform all of those partners after you get your diagnosis.
Some STI's like Syphilis, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are curable with antibiotics (although there are now some stubborn strains of drug-resistant Gonorrhea that seem likely to further mutate into an incurable strain.). Some infections like HSV1 and 2 (commonly called oral and genital herpes) or HIV, stay in your system for your entire life whether or not you experience symptoms.
If you didn't get a chance to ask your doctor these questions and you now wish you had, see if you can make a phone appointment. You can also do some research on your own. We do not recommend doing a random Google search or using WebMD. It's important to find a reputable site, not one based upon scare tactics. We highly recommend Planned Parenthood (http://www.plannedparenthood.org) for its practical, accurate, and non-judgmental information.
Any sexually active person can contract an STI.
Sure, some STIs are contracted as a result of risky behavior precipitated or accompanied by drug or alcohol abuse, but responsible people who use safer sex practices may still contract an STI at some point in their lives. Try to keep in mind that a sexually transmitted infection is just that—an infection—not a moral judgment on "dirty, bad" people. Our culture has turned STIs into a special category of infections that come with a slew of assumptions, fears, guilt, blame and shame. You do not have to subscribe to any of those. Receiving a diagnosis of an STI is, however, an invitation to re-examine your safer sex practices. You will certainly need to modify your sexual behavior while you have an active infection to insure that you don't pass it on. You'll also want to rethink your future safer sex practices and see what you might do differently to avoid contracting another STI in the future.
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