What it’s like to have an STI
Having an STI is a common and varied experience. We reached out via social media and asked people to share their stories.
Pubic lice: “I was shell shocked”
I found a pubic louse on my stomach. I was horrified. I freaked out because I hate insects and my instinct was to run to my mum who was in the house. I shaved off all of my body hair. The thought of INSECTS living on my body doesn't really please me. I searched online for a treatment and got the shampoo they recommended. I was shell shocked because I really didn't see this coming. I always use protection but this is something which can't be prevented. I was ashamed of myself. But I came to realize that it was very common and I had nothing to be ashamed of. —Anonymous
Chlamydia: “I had no symptoms at all”
I had sexual relations with my best friend and she found out she had chlamydia, so I went to get I checked with a couple other people we had slept with. The treatment didn't work the first time so I had to have it a second time. The boyfriend I had at the time of being diagnosed broke up with me ... possibly more [because of] the fact that it was with a female ... I told my current boyfriend that I didn't want to sleep with him until I knew I was clean ... and his response was quite possibly the best response I could've asked for. I was too embarrassed to tell my family but kept it between our friends ... we would all go and get checked together then go shopping after.
I found telling my boyfriend at the time incredibly difficult as our relationship wasn’t the smoothest at this point, and I was thinking that if we broke up he would go around and tell all the people I knew at college. The process of being diagnosed isn't as bad as you think. I did the swab myself in the clinic’s toilets and had a great chat with the nurse. I had no symptoms at all. If it wasn't for my friend telling me, I wouldn't have known anything was wrong. Always tell the people you have slept with no matter how embarrassing, as often the impact of the STI gets worse over time. —Anonymous
Herpes, HPV, and chlamydia: “We were monogamous”
I was diagnosed with chlamydia in 2015, HPV in 2016, and herpes 2 in 2018. My three experiences were very different. I contracted chlamydia from an unfaithful partner I had been with for two years. Because we were “monogamous”, I had no reason to suspect an STD. I had no symptoms and was only diagnosed when they ran an STD test at my annual vaginal exam. When I contracted HPV, I had a genital wart and went to a student health clinic that did not file insurance. My Christian parents are very strict and I feared that they would disown me if they knew I’d had sex. The doctor initially told me I had cancer, and it wasn’t until I visited my local Planned Parenthood that I realized HPV wasn’t as big of a deal.
When I contracted herpes was the worst. I was in a monogamous relationship with someone and thought I was being responsible. We had both had STD tests before deciding to have unprotected sex. He neglected to tell me that he had been exposed to herpes previously. Two days after we had unprotected sex, I became very ill with flu-like symptoms which lasted nearly a month. I then had symptoms that I attributed to a yeast infection (itching, discharge), and eventually a painful wound appeared near my vagina opening. I thought this was from scratching too hard. I went to three doctors for the “yeast infection”, and two for the flu-like symptoms, before one of them finally looked at my vagina. She immediately recognized the lesions and did a vaginal swab, which was so painful that I screamed. This was on a Thursday and over the weekend I had a fever of 101℉ and so much pain that I could barely walk. I thought I was dying. I had to tell my parents because I live alone and had no one to care for me and I couldn’t care for myself. They were surprisingly supportive. As soon as I got on medication, my symptoms improved and I now take a daily dose to prevent an outbreak. —Anonymous, female, 21
Chlamydia: “Sex became painful”
Sex with my husband suddenly became painful, and I suffered for months because I thought there was something wrong with me. My husband started to have symptoms so we both got checked out. He found out that he had chlamydia and let me know, so I was not surprised when I got my diagnosis. He had two weeks of antibiotics and I had three. While we were treated months ago I am still having strange discharge and pain during sex and when using tampons. It has affected the relationship between my husband and I because I am still suffering from related symptoms. It has not affected the trust between us because of the nature of our relationship. I was surprised that my husband didn’t know that you can contract STIs from oral sex. Also, I think there needs to be more talk about discharge. My discharge had suddenly changed and I could not find any information that was close to what I have other than forums with questions from other women that were left unanswered. —Anonymous
Gonorrhea and chlamydia: “My blood tests came back negative”
I had to do a mandatory urine test for a medical examination [and I] received a call back a few days later saying I had to come in for a follow up. Doctor let me know that they found chlamydia and gonorrhea in my urine. Was treated immediately (injection and one pill). I didn't have a partner at the time, but my previous partner did tell me that he experienced some abnormalities on his penis and told me to go get checked out. I had done blood tests and they came back negative, not thinking to do the urine. I told a couple of my friends, no family. I should be more careful with partners and protection now, but it's difficult. —Anonymous, cisgender woman, 21
Chlamydia: “I never told anyone”
I found out I had chlamydia just before I dated my boyfriend, when it began to be serious I got tested but I never told anyone (him, friends, family) the result. I took my medicine in secret and began to have sex without a condom once I was clean. I told him my test was negative. Since I have a “sex education role” towards my friends, I couldn’t admit I made a mistake, and I never told my family because they are not open about sexuality in general. I had to face all this alone and I spent a lot of money for the test. It was a very stressful moment, I was not even 19 and in my country when you turn 18, all these tests aren’t free anymore. —Anonymous, woman, France, 20
Herpes: “My boyfriend had herpes on his hand”
My boyfriend at the time found out a small bump on his hand was herpes and he was extremely upset … I went to the doctor to ask for advice and she said, “You're probably going to get herpes if you stay together, but don't worry lots of people have herpes and it's not that bad.” I decided to stay with my boyfriend and a few months later I felt flu-like symptoms, followed by painful blisters on my labia. I went back to the doctor and she confirmed, yes, it was herpes. I took some medication but the side effects were terrible, I felt nauseous, feverish and completely spaced out. Since then I've never taken medication. I felt pretty bad at first, dirty and ashamed, and my boyfriend was again very upset and felt guilty for giving me herpes …
I wondered how [I would] deal with dating in the future and telling people. But as time went on that relationship ended and I dated plenty of other people who either also had herpes or who weren't worried about it. It became kind of a test—I'd see how people reacted to me telling them, and then know if I wanted to keep seeing them.
Later in queer relationships I found out about using latex gloves for safe sex, and I felt upset that the first doctor I went to didn't suggest that. Now I don't feel as much shame: I've told many friends and lovers ... These days my symptoms are much less severe, but still affect my daily life. Sometimes I need to take time off work due to the flu-like symptoms that can come with a herpes outbreak. On the other hand, having herpes has forced me to take better care of myself: less alcohol and chocolate, more sleep, less stress, as those are some of the things that trigger outbreaks for me. It seems like herpes outbreaks are also related to my period, often coming just before my period, or during/after if I use sanitary pads. —Anonymous, non-binary, 38
HPV: “A brush with cancer”
My annual pap smear came back abnormal. I waited 6 months, as per protocol and went for another one. Abnormal again. Went for an HPV screening and was tested positive for strains 16, 18 and 31—all very high risk strains, known for causing cervical cancer. I had been dating the same person for 5 years at that point, and it caused major strain in our relationship, not knowing where the virus came from or why it had popped up.
What is important to remember is that HPV can lie dormant in a carrier for a long time, so getting diagnosed with it does not necessarily mean your partner cheated. I felt incredibly alone and isolated, because my partner couldn't understand what I was going through, nor could my friends. After I was tested positive for HPV, I went for a colposcopy, which showed severe cervical dysplasia. I had to undergo a cone biopsy under general anaesthesia to remove CIN3, which was afterward identified as cancerous. It was a massive shock to my system—not necessarily the op (it was sore and uncomfortable and I bled for about 2 months afterwards) but the emotional impact which I did not expect. I was insecure and felt broken, like I would never be whole or myself again. It's now two years post op, all my pap smears have come back clean, and I'm only now feeling I'm getting back on track.
The stigma about STIs is real. For a long time I was too embarrassed to talk about it. Now, however, I'm the first one to warn my girlfriends about regular testing and to share my brush with cancer, hoping it will help less people go through the experience. —Anonymous, female, South Africa, 29
HPV, chlamydia, and herpes: “The stigma around STIs is harmful”
I was 20 when I was diagnosed with chlamydia and HPV. My gynecologist’s nurse called me, sent the prescription to my pharmacy and told me to abstain from sex for a week. I had little to no information and felt very “dirty” and that I had acted “slutty” and cried myself to sleep. I informed my then-partner and the other three partners I had been with since my last screening. My then-partner dumped me, even after he tested negative. Two of the other men dodged my phone calls for weeks. Only one person, still a friend now 10 years later, answered that he had screened a week prior and was negative.
I hadn’t screened for HIV at the initial visit so I went to my university clinic where the nurse raised her eyebrows at me and gave me a lecture. As a medical professional myself years later, I realize that she was wrong to judge and should have encouraged me and my friends to screen regularly. The man who dumped me was eventually diagnosed with herpes, another very common STI, but had faced a lot of stigma since. He eventually apologized and described his own struggles with the stigma and it was very healing.
I’ve had more patients cry in my office about herpes than HIV, which is actually life-threatening. But stigma around STIs is harmful. I never say “clean” or “dirty”. I want everyone to know that all STIs are manageable and most are curable. —Anonymous, woman, 29
Looking for more information about STIs?
You can learn more about STIs on our website. We’ve answered common questions and misconceptions about STIs, written a guide about safer sex, and shared advice about how to talk with your partner about STIs.
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