If you believe you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), either from engaging in any form of unprotected sexual activity (e.g., vaginal, anal, or oral) or through contact with non-sexual transmission vehicles (e.g., sharing needles), the first step you must take is to seek medical attention. Many STIs can be treated and cured in their early stages, so it is important to visit a physician as soon as you begin to exhibit any abnormal physical symptoms (e.g., painful urination, itchy genitals, unusual changes in the color and smell of your discharge, etc.). Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning they present no clear physical symptoms; therefore it is recommended to get tested after engaging in any sexual activity with a new partner. Your health, and that of your partners, is extremely important, so you should not allow feelings of shame or guilt to discourage you from seeking medical attention as soon as possible.
Testing Resources and Options
If financial reasons deter you from seeking medical attention, there are many public health clinics throughout the United States, such as planned Parenthood, that provide testing and treatment for little or no cost.1 Many guarantee anonymous services and offer STI testing for those under 18, without parental consent. If you do not live in the United States, you can use certain websites (e.g., thestdproject.com.) to find places around you that offer free and anonymous testing2 If you are diagnosed with an STI, inform your previous and current partner(s) right away so that he or she may be tested and treated as well; not informing partners puts their health and your health at risk. They may experience serious complications from an untreated infection (e.g., pelvic inflammatory disease) or reinfect others including yourself.
It is important to follow doctor’s and pharmacist’s orders exactly as described. Often, a medicine regime can alleviate symptoms of an STI, but it is crucial that the medication is taken in its entirety in the method and manner prescribed. Other steps in a treatment regime for certain STIs (e.g., scabies), such as washing sheets and clothes, must also be followed in order to avoid reinfection. It is also important to avoid having unprotected sex while receiving treatment, in order to avoid transmission. You should not resume sexual activity until you have completed the treatment and are no longer infectious. For incurable STIs, including herpes and HIV/AIDS, it is important to see your physician regularly and abide by his or her orders and recommendations. These diseases may require more attention and continued treatment, but with the proper care and a positive attitude, the patient can experience a safe and healthy sex life.3
Communication and Prevention
Getting tested with your partner before engaging in any sexual activity is ideal, as it dramatically decreases the possibility of acquiring or transmitting an STI. We recommend speaking openly and honestly with your partner about getting tested together before engaging in any sexual activity. Getting tested together ensures that both partners are either STI free or are aware of their condition and can seek treatment. Seeking and acquiring STI testing can be very stressful for some and having your partner with you for support can help alleviate distress.
Using barrier methods of contraceptives (e.g., male and female condoms) significantly reduces the risk of STI transmission. Hormonal methods of birth control, such as the pill or intrauterine device (IUD), do not protect against STIs, so it is important to use condoms in conjunction with non-barrier methods. For a list of national hotlines concerning STIs, see our emergency numbers page, or visit www.hivtest.org to locate the HIV testing center nearest you.
1. "STD Testing | Facts on STD Testing Procedures." STD Testing | Facts on STD Testing Procedures. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
2. "Global STD Testing Locations (Outside of the US)." The STD Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
3. "When One Partner Is HIV+." When One Partner Is HIV+. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
Last Updated 12 March 2015.