In recognition of World Sexual Health Day on the 4th of September, we’re chatting about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Don’t worry, we’re not here to tell you to stop having sex because you might get an STI. VUSH’s sexpert, Steph, has written this article to share practical tools and accurate information for people to navigate the world of STIs. Because, the truth is, STIs are a natural part of sex that you will need to address at some point in your sex life — but that doesn’t need to be as scary as it sounds!
The basics of STIs
Here are 5 things everyone needs to know about STIs:
1. “STI” not “STD”
Choose your language carefully, try to use the term Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) rather than Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD). STD is a stigmatising term that isn’t always medically correct — not all infections lead to disease! Making a simple change to the language you use can help destigmatise one of the most taboo and isolating aspects of sexual wellbeing.
2. STIs are (very) common
You probably know heaps of people who’ve had an STI once or twice — chances are, they just haven’t told you they’ve had one (unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to STIs, despite how common they are). Some people have tested positive to more than one STI in their life, or the same one a couple of times! These things happen, even when you’re trying to be safe.
3. Regular STI tests
We recommend getting a comprehensive STI test every 3-6 months. After every sexual partner is even better! Be honest with your doctor about the type of sex you’re having, as the tests you require will depend on this. Remember, you can’t test for every STI with a urine test, you may need a blood test or a swab. But you’re not the only one responsible for testing, don’t forget to ask your sexual partners when their last test was! You deserve to be aware of your partner’s sexual health before you sleep with them.
4. STIs won’t kill you
Yes, an STI is a temporary health concern that needs to be addressed ASAP, but as long as you seek treatment, it’s not going to cause major health issues. Even the seemingly incurable conditions like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and HSV (herpes simplex virus) are completely manageable nowadays. HIV is no longer a killer virus — did you know there is medication that prevents the development of AIDS and the transmission of HIV to sexual partners? Look up the Undetectable = Untransmittable HIV phenomenon for more info on this.
5. STIs aren’t exclusive to penetrative sex
Unfortunately, using a condom doesn’t always protect you from STIs. Did you know they can be passed on through oral sex too? And even just from skin-to-skin contact or kissing!? We use the term “safer sex” to discuss healthy sex practices, because the truth is, you can never be 100% safe from STIs when having sex.
What to do if you have an STI
So, the test results have come back positive, now what? Here’s what you do:
1. Forgive yourself first
You are not dirty, promiscuous or learning your lesson if you test positive to an STI. This is not the end of the world (or your sex life). You will survive and have steamy, fun, shame-free sex again! Try your best to let go of the stigma of having an STI.
2. Take treatment seriously
Make sure you commit to your medication if you have some so you can recover as quickly as possible. You may need to make some lifestyle changes like wearing comfy undies and avoiding alcohol for a few days.
3. Learn about management
If you’ve been diagnosed with HSV or HIV, and you’re worried about having this STI for the rest of your life, please know there are many management options and your sex life is not over. Like we mentioned before, there is incredible HIV treatment available these days. And for our HSV-positive babes, don’t stress, herpes is super common and not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Did you know that anyone who gets cold sores on their mouth actually has herpes and can pass it on to someone’s genitals if they go down on them? Being HSV- or HIV-positive doesn’t mean you’re going to pass it on to everyone you sleep with. Talk to a doctor or sexologist about it!
4. Take time off sex
While you’re still STI positive and accessing treatment, you shouldn’t sleep with anyone. Don’t worry, you’ll be back on the horse in no time. Once you’ve recovered or your outbreak has subsided, you’ll be safe to have as much sex as you want.
5. Tell your partner(s)
For some, this is the hardest part, but it’s absolutely necessary. We’ll go into more details on how to do this next.
How to tell someone you have an STI
Here are our top 4 tips for disclosing an STI to a partner:
1. Give exact details
Tell them the type and timing of your STI diagnosis. Share the date you got tested, along with the type of STI you’ve tested positive to (for example, there are two kinds of herpes, type 1 and type 2). They need to know exactly which STI it is so they can get the appropriate tests.
2. Don’t shame them
You can’t go into the STI talk angry or ready to place blame. No matter what you’re feeling, try to go in level-headed with the intention to communicate, not start confrontation.
3. Don’t over-apologise
While you shouldn’t put the blame on someone else, you can’t take it all yourself either. Skip the whole “I know this is kinda gross” or “this is so awkward, I feel so bad” or “I understand if you don’t want to see me anymore” spiel. No shame!
4. Do it anonymously
If you’re really freaked out by the idea of having this conversation, there are some online tools to help you out. The Drama Down Under - 'Let Them Know' website lets you send an anonymous text to someone, all you have to do is put in their name and number and the STI you’ve tested positive to. However, we really do recommend talking this out yourself if you can. Be brave!
Read more on VUSH Stimulation
You can find more information on sexual health and wellness on the VUSH blog. Learn about masturbation and the orgasm gap, or read our top 10 recommendations for adult sex education. To learn more about anatomy, read our blogs on the clitoris and the vulva.