It’s been a long and productive sex week here at Straight, No Chaser. We’ve run the gamut of common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other genital conditions, and links to many are included within this post. However, many of you have rightfully asked a simple question: “What happens if and when I contract a STI?” This and the next post will look at three scenarios around contracting, managing and living with a STIs.
What you should do immediately if you suspect you or your partner has a sexually transmitted infection
- You first job is to stop the denial. STIs don’t go away on their own. Well, actually herpes does, but it’s more accurate to say it goes into hiding, waiting to return another day. At the first suggestion of any abnormality (e.g. vaginal/penile discharge, the presence of bumps, a rash, warts or ulcers, itching or burning when you urinate, or abnormal smells, etc.), get evaluated. This clearly is an example of it’s better to have it (an evaluation) and not need it than to need it and not have it. STIs cause consequences, including PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), birth defects and any increased incidence of cancer. HPV even causes cancer, and without vaccination, virtually 100% of the sexually active population will obtain it at some point in life.
- You must get all your sexual partners evaluated and treated. Ping pong is not just a sport. You getting treated without all of your partners doing so as well is pointless. Even your asymptomatic partners can be carriers of the disease. Sorry folks, but guys are much more likely not to have symptoms even if infected. Don’t let that fact change the reality of who needs to be told and treated (or who could have caused the infection). Not telling your female partners about STIs can have devastating consequences.
- You should make a commitment to wearing condoms. Either get over the subjective difference in how sexual intercourse feels with and without condoms, or get more creative to adjust for the difference. The issues are common things happen commonly, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you have had a STI, you’re more likely to have others in the future. It’s more likely to be in your social network, and you may be the one who is a carrier (of herpes, for example). Given that STIs “hang out” together like a gang (meaning the same individuals infected with one STI are the ones most likely to have others), you want to avoid contract some of the incurable STIs, such as herpes, HIV or HPV.
What we will do if you suspect you have a STI
- When you come to your physician’s office or the emergency room with the possibility that a STI exists, or you know you’ve been exposed to one, you will be treated. This is not a situation in which we wait to treat some of the more common conditions, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Because of the community, dealing with STIs is more of a “treat now, ask questions later” situation. Besides, many individuals are carriers without the presences of symptoms (particularly those with herpes). I must restate: this is neither the time to be bashful or in denial. If it’s syphilis that’s in question, say so. If you have sufficient symptoms, your medical team will figure it out, but it’s better for you if you already know what the likely culprit is.
- You should not be offended by the questions you will be asked. Physicians are in the treatment business, not the judging business. Expect to have frank conversations about your sexual habits and preferences, with and without your partner(s) present.
- If a definitive diagnosis is made for certain conditions (e.g. gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis or PID), you will be treated prior to leaving the emergency room unless you have allergies preventing the use of certain medicines. There are two particular considerations for you after you’ve been treated for a curable STI in an office or ER setting, both regarding your resuming sexual activity. First, if cultures were drawn, you should wait to begin sex until after these results have returned. The cultures will clarify exactly which diseases you have and which antibiotics work against them. Normally this would have been an issue, but antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is a real thing. Additionally, you should wait to begin sex until all of your current partners have also been treated and cleared. You can and will become reinfected from all STIs on more than one occasion.
The final post in this series discusses managing the presence of an incurable sexually transmitted infection.
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