Feel good by contributing – help others to gain clarity on their sexual health. Note: TBD Health Inc. is not a non-profit.
By Xenia Ellenbogen
Here’s the thing—sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are extremely common. But thanks to age-old stigma and taboo around sex, receiving a positive diagnosis can trigger a spectrum of emotions. From shame and depression to powerlessness, the feelings accompanying an STI diagnosis can often feel worse or last longer than the physical symptoms you might experience. A variety of treatments exist, and you are not alone!
When you get an STI from a partner, though, the range of emotions can be compounded by feelings of betrayal, resentment, confusion, fear, or anger. Even in healthy and honest relationships, sometimes STIs show up. After all, over half of people will have an STI in their lifetime. There are ways to work through feelings and seek support.
Reasons why STIs might show up in your relationship, aside from cheating
While getting an STI from a partner might stir concerns around infidelity, it’s important to note that a positive diagnosis isn’t always a sign of cheating. Why not?
All STIs can be managed, even if they are not curable. In plain English, they can stink and be uncomfortable. But like the common cold—infections happen, and they’re no one’s fault.
Even with all the understanding in the world, getting an STI can stir painful emotions and even depression. It’s essential to process feelings like shame, embarrassment, anger, or powerlessness after receiving your diagnosis.
Managing your feelings after receiving an STI from a partner
First thing’s first, it’s okay to grieve and feel whatever you feel. Getting an STI from a partner can be surprising, whether you’ve been together for ages or just a couple weeks. You don’t need to decide what to do about your relationship immediately and can take time to figure out the emotional and physical care you require before making decisions.
Ramping up your self-care efforts can help soften some of the intensity around a new STI diagnosis.
Shaking internalized STI stigma is essential, and getting educated can help. In Damaged Goods?: Women Living With Incurable Sexually Transmitted Diseases, researcher and author Adina Nack, Ph.D., finds that women bear the brunt of STI stigma disproportionately and are more likely to feel “dirty” after a positive diagnosis. This likely has a lot to do with puritanical culture and an emphasis on virginity equating to value. AKA, stigma comes from an outdated myth tied to shaming sexually active women. Counter STI stigma by consuming sex-positive content in books, social media accounts, and podcasts.
Learning about STIs from reputable sex educators and reading studies can help you dispel some of your own shame and remember that STIs are common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 5 people had an STI on any given day in 2018.
For treatable but not curable infections, such as herpes, it might help to seek support from others encountering the same diagnosis. STI support groups and podcasts, like Something Positive for Positive People, or private Facebook groups can connect you with others.
For people with a history of sexual trauma, receiving an STI may feel triggering or bring up past trauma. If this is the case for you, you’re not alone. Sex therapists and trauma-informed therapists are wonderful resources for increased support around these feelings.
Ready to talk about it? Here’s what to ask
At some point, you might want to discuss your feelings about your status with your partner and how to proceed moving forward. The following questions can help steer your conversation.
If you have lingering questions about whether you received an STI from infidelity or whether your partner knew about their STI and chose not to disclose it to you, you’ll likely want answers before deciding what to do. If you are moving forward after infidelity, couples and individual counseling can help.
Moving forward after your diagnosis
You’ll want to take stock of your emotional safety moving forward. If you can’t talk about your sexual health or feelings about the STI, it might feel tough to move forward. Only you know what’s right for you; it’s okay to take the time to process before making a grand decision.
An STI does not have to signal the end of a relationship. For some partners, STIs can encourage open conversations about sexual health and even facilitate new levels of closeness. Remember, STIs are a common and normal experience for sexually active people. Working through the complex feelings that arise after you find out you have one is entirely possible.
This article provides information about sexual health, healthcare and/or related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of TBD Health Inc.