A myriad of emotions arise after receiving a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). You might feel angry, hurt, confused, embarrassed, and even betrayed — particularly if the STD was transmitted to you by a loved one. Managing all these different emotions, along with your new health issue, is incredibly overwhelming and challenging. It can be hard to know where to turn, especially if you don’t feel comfortable or safe sharing your STD status with those around you.
Luckily, you are not alone. Millions of Americans have STDs, and while it is not always an easy road, you can get through this time with your dignity and your self-respect intact. Here’s how:
Retain your sense of self. While some STDs are easily treatable, others may require more care and vigilance, such as herpes. After a diagnosis, many people suffer from feelings of deep loss and shame, and some feel completely disconnected from their previous identities. It’s as if the STD diagnosis has divided their lives into two parts: life before their STD diagnosis and life afterward. While there is no denying that this event will have a huge impact on your life, it doesn’t have to take over your identity and destroy your previous self. You can still be “you” even after an STD diagnosis. You can still enjoy sex, flirting, making out, and dating. You can still be a sexy, seductive individual. You will need to take some precautions, of course, both to protect yourself and to protect your partner, but ultimately the core of who you are hasn’t been altered or affected in any way. You are still the funny, smart, engaging person you have always been — you just have experienced one of life’s many setbacks, as so many people have. It’s not the end of the world or the end of whom you used to be.
Put it in perspective. If you found out that someone you knew had a cold or a disease such as lupus, you wouldn’t be turned off by him or her and you certainly wouldn’t judge that person’s character based on a health issue. STDs should be no different. Getting an STD doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you dirty or undesirable, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you are promiscuous or immoral. Anyone — I repeat, anyone — can get an STD. And that’s true whether you’re a virgin having sex for the first time or a middle-aged man having sex for the 2,000th time. Having an STD doesn’t make you a marked individual. It just means that you have a health issue that requires some caretaking and medication, just as if you had the flu. It might be the result of sexual activity, but that does not mar your character, and anyone who thinks it does is simply not worth your time anyway.
Learn to trust again. It can be very difficult to let go and enjoy sex after an STD diagnosis. You won’t trust your partner as completely, or you might not even trust yourself. This is all a natural part of the healing process, but it’s important not to get stuck on this step. Moving forward is essential for your mental and emotional health, particularly if you want to reclaim your sexuality and begin enjoying sex again. Journaling about your feelings can help, as can discussing your fears with your partner or a trusted loved one.
You can also find support from resources such as STD message boards like http://www.stdhelp.org, where you can connect with other people who are going through the exact same thing. Remember, you are not alone!