According to the CDC, there are about 20 million new STD cases each year, with many more cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia unreported or unknown. The reality is that these diseases are tied to sexual behavior, and it makes people nervous to talk about. Even though anybody having sex can get an STD, it’s still difficult to talk about them.
Most people have some type of STD and don’t realize it. For example, HPV is the most common STD in the U.S., which about 79 million people infected around the country. 80 percent of people who have sex have been exposed to the HPV virus, with more than half of the infections occurring in people younger than 25.
HPV is spread through anal or vaginal sex, and anybody sexually active is risking exposure to an STI. In most cases, HPV will clear up on its own and cause no other health problems. HPV has dozens of strains, with some of them causing cervical cancer. Other kinds of HPV can lead to genital warts in both men and women.
People are often confused about who can and cannot get an STD. However, people should understand that having an STD means a person is normal. It would seem, because of this, that talking about STDs or STIs would be as easy to talk about diabetes or cholesterol.
A person who finds out they have an STD may feel like they’re alone. Psychotherapist Anita Gadhia-Smith said people need to educate themselves about their condition as much as possible. By doing this, they learn that millions of people have an STD and that most infections can be treated.
Gadhia-Smith said after learning the facts about their disease, they can avoid the stigma people have and live normal, healthy sexual lives.
She also encourages people to join some type of support group after getting diagnosed with an STD. These groups can give them an array of information about their disease including the various treatment options available and allow you to share your own fears and anxiety about the disease.
People who’d rather not join a support group where they see people face-to-face can check out an online support group to help them deal with their diagnosis without getting too personal. There are several online support groups for chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes and HIV a person can use to help them through the tough times.
Those shameful feelings you have should never be kept secret. By keeping them a secret, you only add to your pain. Of course, you should only tell someone you trust or share it with the person you are dating. Be sure to choose your “people” wisely. You could also talk to your doctor or therapist.
If anyone in your life is shaming you for your STI diagnosis, it’s time to cut them loose. You already feel bad enough; you don’t need them piling it on worse. This is not a friendship. Anybody who shames you for an STD has shamed you for other things you may or may not know about.
An STD is not the end of the world, and by learning about your condition, you don’t have to live with the stigma any longer. Learn everything you can and remember to talk to someone you trust. If you don’t have a trusted person, consider talking to your doctor about your feelings. There’s nothing to be shamed about anymore.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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