Chronic STDs Are NOT The End Of Your Love Life

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Sex & Psychology January 23, 2020

You can get rid of some STDs—like gonorrhea and chlamydia—with a single dose of antibiotics. Once cured, you’re back in the game like nothing ever happened. 

If only all STDs were like that. 

Other infections—like herpes, HPV, and HIV—are, unfortunately, for life. If you get one, there’s no cure, just symptom management. 

Living with an incurable STD can take a powerful psychological toll. Emotions like guilt, shame, and embarrassment are common given how stigmatized these infections are. People may worry about being judged or getting made fun of, and they may face a lot of anxiety about when and how to tell a potential partner about their diagnosis. What will happen when they find out? Fear of rejection is extraordinarily common in these cases. 

Many people with STDs feel like they’re the only one because no one talks about this subject. This is why it’s important to put things in perspective. 

Having an incurable STD doesn’t mean you have to forego having an active and satisfying intimate life, though. If you happen to have one of these infections, here are some tips for moving on and establishing happy and healthy relationships. 

Stop beating yourself up!

Having an incurable infection such as herpes doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or that you’re a bad person. Let’s be clear: this doesn’t say anything about your self-worth or your character. You just happened to get a little unlucky—that’s it. 

And if you’re feeling alone, you shouldn’t. Many people with STDs feel like they’re the only one because no one talks about this subject. This is why it’s important to put things in perspective. 

Recognize that STDs are incredibly common. For instance, according to the CDC, 1 in 8 adults in the United States has genital herpes. Even more, about 1 in 2, have a genital HPV infection of some type. In other words, there are lots of other people out there who are in the same boat—and that’s exactly why we need to break the silence on this subject. 

Get educated 

As the old saying goes, knowledge is power—and this definitely applies in the case of having an incurable STD. The more you know, the better your ability to keep symptoms under control, avoid spreading the infection, and reduce anxiety for yourself and any partners you might have. 

The more you know, the better your ability to keep symptoms under control, avoid spreading the infection, and reduce anxiety... 

For example, in the case of genital herpes, many people take comfort in learning that outbreaks tend to become less frequent and less severe over time and, further, that they may be able to prevent most outbreaks and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others simply by taking a daily antiviral drug.

Similarly, in the case of HIV, modern treatments can suppress this virus to undetectable levels. According to the CDC, this practice creates “effectively no risk” of transmission to others through intimate contact—and that’s especially true if the uninfected partner is on PrEP. Not only that, but HIV treatments have gotten so good that those living with this infection now have a “near normal” lifespan. 

Likewise, with regard to HPV, we now have a vaccine that can prevent the most dangerous strains of this virus—the ones linked to genital warts and cancer. What this means is that, if you happen to have HPV but your partner has been vaccinated against it, odds are that you don’t have anything to worry about in terms of passing the infection along.

STD education can help you in shedding a lot of fears, anxieties, and insecurities. Plus, it will equip you with the knowledge you need in order to practice the safest intimacy possible and to answer any questions that a potential partner might have. 

Learn how to communicate about your status

When and how do you tell someone that you have an incurable STD? This is something that a lot of people struggle with, but it’s important to learn how to communicate openly and honestly because lying isn’t cool. Neglecting to tell someone else about your status could potentially be putting their health at risk. Also, if you think it’s possible you might want to have a romantic relationship with someone, lying isn’t a good way to start off on the right foot.

Here are some pointers for starting a productive conversation:

  • Choose your timing carefully. This shouldn’t be the first thing out of your mouth when you meet someone, but it also shouldn’t wait until everyone’s clothes are off, either. Get to know each other a bit first, then choose a time and place where you can have a private conversation.  
  • Practice how you’re going to say it beforehand. There isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way to do it—just figure out what you’re comfortable with. For example, some people bring it up very casually in order to reduce all of the anxiety that comes along with big buildups like “we need to talk” or “I need to tell you something.” Another low-stress way to do it is to say something like this: “I like you and I think we can trust each other, so I want to share something personal with you…”
  • Keep calm and do your best to be confident. If you seem really anxious and scared, the other person is probably going to feel the same way, too.
  • Be prepared to answer questions. There is a lot of misinformation out there about STDs, so you may need to educate your partner a bit about the reality of the infection, as well as steps they can take to stay safe, such as PrEP, the HPV vaccine, and condoms.
  • If you still find it very difficult to have these conversations or seem to be encountering a lot of negativity, consider trying a dating site like Positive Singles that caters exclusively to people who have incurable STDs. Because everyone on the site already has an STD, the fear of being judged or rejected effectively disappears.
About the author

Dr. Justin Lehmiller has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Purdue University and is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He’s an avid author, blogger and prolific researcher on topics such as the psychology of relationships and intimacy, having published more than 50 academic works to date in each of the leading journals on intimacy.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Future Method, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.


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