The STI talk
By: Matthew Greenacre
So you finally went to the clinic after weeks of peeing what feels like boiling water, or maybe you are just seeing someone new and want to get yourself checked, or maybe it was just part of your yearly check-up. But regardless, as you leave the clinic with that piece of paper and your positive test results, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that you were responsible or, alternately, found out before you passed the STI on to others, caused lasting damage such as infertility, or made your genitals look like a rare tropical fungus.
And now, depending on the STI you have contracted, the biggest worry that is running through your head is that you must notify your future, current and previous sexual partners. Since you only need to worry about taking a couple of antibiotic pills to clear bacterial STI’s, such as the very common and contagious Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, shame or the fear of losing your partner are likely bigger concerns than the actual disease - especially if the STI brings infidelity to light.
On the other hand, viral infections such as hepatitis, herpes, HPV (genital warts), or HIV/AIDS will either be destroyed by your immune system just like the ‘flu, or are permanent and can only be suppressed, but not cured. The knowledge that you must not only live with the disease itself, but that it can be a barrier to future developing relationships can be crushing.
Once you are tested either the Health Department will anonymously inform your previous partners for you, or your doctor may assist you in the process. Having a public health professional tell them is a valid option, since the health professionals can provide your ex with all the information he or she needs about the STI and how to get checked.
However, if you have a permanent viral infection such as HPV or herpes, it is your responsibility to tell your next partner before your relationship becomes physical. This daunting task can be made quite manageable if you keep the following in mind:
- It is worthwhile to first be informed about your STI for your own sake, but also to be able to answer any questions your partner might have. While I am not saying that you have to hand them a pamphlet on genital warts when you tell them that you have HPV, this does show people that you take responsibility for your and their health. Credible, up-to-date information is available in the SHEC office, Student Wellness Centre, at clinics, and your doctor’s office.
- Timing is hugely important, but fairly common sense. This conversation should happen as soon as sex is on the table, so to speak. Not only is this respectful, but it may help minimize your loss if your partner decides not to continue the relationship. Waiting until after sex is called “exposure without disclosure” and though controversial, doing just this led a Toronto man with herpes to be charged with aggravated assault.
- Do not use e-cards, memes, or texts. Do your best to do it face-to-face, and if not on the phone, while they are at home. It is best to tell them in their home so they feel comfortable, can digest what you’re telling them and you can leave them to think it over once you have told them.
- Be straightforward, blunt, businesslike, but relaxed. This takes time and practice to be able to do. It is crucial to present the information objectively because this allows the person to think reasonably about what they are being told. This helps dissociate their feelings about you from their concerns about the STI.
- Give them time to think and respond. Remember that a permanent STI is not a death sentence for your sex life. There are many ways to lower the risk of transmission, with the most obvious being to wear a condom.
Finding out that you have contracted an STI is almost always traumatic and because it can be stigmatizing, many students do not know whom they can talk about it with. Simply discussing their infection can defuse your stress and help you think about how to move forward. SHEC’s peer counsellors would love to talk with you about your challenges, and can provide resources so you can make informed, healthy decisions.