Friends With Benefits

I hear this term, Friends With Benefits, a lot.  However, most of the time when this scenario is described to me it sounds like things are light on the friends side and heavy on the benefits.  To me, this is a tricky combo.  The reason I say this is because a friendship requires some commitment and some emotions.  Yet benefits sound like a casual hook up that doesn’t include either of those two things.  Can you really be friends and have no strings attached benefits?  The concept is great but I’m not sure how well this works out in reality.  I have an open mind, so I’m willing to explore the idea.

When I hear students talk about having a friends with benefits relationship it sounds more like a casual hook up with a friend of a friend (acquaintance) for a few weeks, maybe months.  Maybe this is where the word “friend” comes in??  When I hear about students who have been really good friends with someone, but then sex finally enters the picture it usually ends up becoming a more serious relationship or the friendship ends in a very bad way.  There is nothing casual about it.  Usually this student is coming in to talk to me because they are depressed that it didn’t work out.  They realize now they have deep feelings for the other person and having sex ruined everything.

So, obviously the term is frustrating to me as a counselor.  I really think if you are going to enter into a Friends With Benefits type of relationship you should set some boundaries for yourself.  The first thing is to be honest with yourself.  Before entering into a sexual relationship ask yourself if you have feelings for this person at all.  Relationships don’t stay static.  They tend to grow.  Frequent sexual encounters with someone you have feelings for is very dangerous ground.  You will end up falling in love with this person and be very hurt if they dismiss your “casual” relationship and move on to someone else.  I have students who become very upset with themselves because they knew what they were signing up for but were hopeful for a different outcome.  They hoped casual sex would turn into a real committed relationship.  Do not be delusional.  Do not have sex with someone you have feelings for and pretend that you can keep it light and fun.  At this point I do not call this “friends with benefits”, I call it, “please give me love if I give you sex”.

It is one thing to be sexually attracted to someone you barely know and hook up to fill the time between more serious relationships.  If you are both on that same page it can end in a “no harm, no foul” way.  If you suspect the other person has feelings for you I would put the breaks on starting a sexual relationship.  It may be tempting to take advantage of the situation in front of you, but it can end in psycho stalker territory.  If you aren’t careful you could find yourself in a situation that is very hard to untangle yourself from.

I only put that out there because I often hear students say “I didn’t realize they were in love with me”.  They then go on to talk about how they feel bad about hurting this other person and now feel awkward when they see them around campus.  I  realize that some people can be good liars.  You may have entered the friends with benefits relationship thinking the other person was on the same page.  However, most of the time you get a vibe if the other person is really into you.  Pay attention to the signals the other person is giving before you start getting naked on a regular basis.  Life is complicated.  Most of the time sex is complicated, even though most people would like it to keep it simple so they can have more of it without thinking of the consequences.  If you at all suspect the other person has any feelings for you, walk away ASAP!

One other thing that I hear about in my office is concerning STI’s.  Getting a sexually transmitted infection from a friends with benefits relationship can really mess up the whole casual vibe you were striving for.  It also messes up trust and loyalty.  If this person is a friend of a friend they are going to be more loyal to them than you.  This is how rumors and hateful things get started on Facebook and texting forwards.  You still need to protect yourself and use a condom when you enter any sexual relationship.  Even if it is with someone you seem to know really well.

From what I can tell, Friends With Benefits is supposed to be fun and casual.  To keep it that way, be smart.  Be aware of what is going on with you and with the other person.  If you meet someone else you really want to commit to or you find yourself becoming attached, be honest and disengage.  Be prepared to have the other person walk away at any time.  It is easier to let someone walk away when the whole point is to stay casual.  If this isn’t you, realize it is okay to be on your own until you find something a little more serious.

Telling The One You Love You Have An STD

Telling someone you have an STD is probably one of the hardest conversations you can have.  It gets even harder if you have to tell your partner that you have a STD that can’t be cured.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that even though young people ages 15-24 represent only 25% of the sexually active population, they acquire nearly half of all newly diagnosed STD’s.  College students may think they are immune to getting an STD because everyone around them looks healthy, but many college students are facing the horrible fact that they have contracted an STD.  Once you find out you have an STD, the conversation to let your partner or future partners know can be devastatingly hard.

Putting this conversation off will only develop trust issues and put a huge strain on the relationship.  Go into the conversation with a calm demeanor and stick to the facts at first.  After telling your partner the facts, you can share your own feelings and grief about finding out.  Remember that grief has many stages- denial, bargaining, anger, depression and finally acceptance.  You may still be struggling with your own acceptance of the STD while you are trying to have this conversation.  However, it is very important not to put it off.  Only wait if you are feeling a lot of anger because it may lead to you be very defensive which won’t be helpful to you or your partner.  If you contracted the STD before you were in the relationship, let your partner know this and take the responsibility.  However, sometimes it is hard to know who gave the STD to who.  Encourage your partner to get tested as soon as possible.  Sometimes this will help determine who had the STD first, but it is not always possible to figure out.  Do not start to blame each other.  Unless one of you has cheated in the relationship, it may not matter who had the STD first.  The first conversation is only going to be the first of many if you plan to keep your relationship intact.  The psychological and emotional effects are sometimes worse than the physical, so give yourselves both time to work through the emotions.  It can be hard to accept, but some couples now realize that they can’t reinfect each other and go on to have a healthy sexual relationship.  Acceptance is possible with strong communication and trust in place.  It is emotionally hard because it isn’t something people often talk to others about.  Some couples may decide not to tell anyone else and only have each other for support.

What if you find out you have an incurable STD and you aren’t in a relationship?  In counseling, students work through a lot of self esteem issues and deal with their guilt.  They have to learn to forgive themselves for not protecting themselves in the past.  A lot of students state they feel gross and contagious.  It is hard to confidently put yourself out there to meet new people when you feel this way.  I see people who feel so ashamed that they are afraid to start a new relationship.  We work on focusing on other things they have to offer in a relationship.  After awhile some people who are tired of being alone may start to date, but break it off if it starts to become sexual.  After avoiding sex for a long time, a lot of people have anxiety about being with someone again.  In time, you will find someone you don’t want to run away from.  Then its time for the dreaded conversation.

Some students have decided to go onto dating sites for people who have Herpes Simplex Virus or HIV to find others who are already infected.  This has helped some people find satisfying relationships with someone who would automatically know about their STD.  Some students who meet someone they really like ask when they should have this conversation.  I encourage them to wait until they know the person better and want to be committed in the relationship.  Its a no-brainer to say something before it becomes sexual.  I suggest they be upfront and honest and share the risks with their new boyfriend or girlfriend.  Facing the possible rejection is excruciating but a lot of students have reported positive results when having this conversation in a loving, positive relationship.  It is a very courageous thing to tell someone about your sexual past, but it is very important to keep everyone as safe and healthy as possible.

Please be smart about your sex life.  If you don’t have any STDs, be thankful and continue to practice safe sex.  Get tested to avoid the devastating consequence of spreading an STD to someone else.  If you have a STD that is incurable, life isn’t over.  Many people are living happy, healthy lives and many people are in relationships.  For more information please see the following websites listed below.

http://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

http://www.herpes.com

http://hpv.com/pdc/hpv/index.jsp

http://www.hiv.com

I wrote a post similar to this a few months ago.  I realized after reading it again that I didn’t really give any suggestions on how to actually have the conversation.  I made those corrections in this post.  To read the previous post, please click on this link:

https://collegerelationships.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/relationships-and-stds/

One Night Stand

Yes or No? 

Good or Bad?

Wise or Unwise?

Safe or Dangerous?

Depends on who you ask and how you go about deciding if you want to have a one night stand.  At the end of the school year a lot of students start to feel the pressure of finals and graduation looming over them.  This can make students want to to go out and find ways to forget about all that stress.  Also, with it being the end of the year a lot of students think, “What the heck?  Maybe I’ll hook up with someone tonight.  I’m leaving anyway in a few days for summer break”.   If you are thinking this way, guess what?  You aren’t the only one, but whatever you are thinking about doing at the end of this semester, be smart!!

1.  Make an informed choice.  If you want to have  one night stand, its better to decide that beforehand when you are good and sober.  An impulsive drunk moment may cause more feelings of regret.  Plus, that guy or girl looks yummy with beer goggles on, but you may wake up and want to kick yourself.

2.  Pack Protection!  Don’t go out without taking a few condoms with you.  Never depend on someone else to protect your sexual health.  You aren’t immune to getting an STD just because you’re only having sex with this person one time!!

3.  Give your friends the 411.  Let your friends know you are leaving the bar or the party with someone.  That way someone knows where you are and who you’re with.  Your friends also won’t have to look for you an hour after you’ve left and think your MIA.

4.  Money!  Make sure you save some cash for a cab.  It’s likely that alcohol will be involved.  You want to be safe while going to wherever you decide to go that night.  Also, if you do go to their place you want to have the freedom to leave when you want whether that’s at 3am or noon the next day.

5.  No regrets!  Whatever you end up deciding about having a one night stand, don’t beat yourself up.  It is okay to decide that it isn’t for you, but we all live and learn.  Don’t obsess about making a mistake or feel ashamed because you did something outside your comfort zone.  Not everything works for everybody!

One thing I try to stress to everyone I talk to is to be okay with yourself and your decisions.  No one thinks or feels the same way.  What is easy for one person, may be really hard for someone else.  Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t judge yourself or others too harshly.  Life is complicated enough without always second guessing everything you do.  If you realize now that casual sex isn’t for you, then take that knowledge into the future and make different choices.  If you found that having a one night stand made you feel really free and it opened your mind to new possibilities, then don’t apologize to others for doing what makes you happy.

College is a time to explore who you are and what you want.  We all grow at a different pace so don’t push yourself to do things until your ready.  Also, you don’t have to have a one night stand to already know it isn’t for you.  You don’t necessarily have to try everything once to know what works and what doesn’t.  However, you may be shocked by how much you change during the years you are at school.  You may change your mind about a lot of things as you gain knowledge from all your experiences in college.   Just be aware that toward the end of the year is when many students tend to be more risky.  As long as you aren’t too risky!  Never drink and drive and never have unprotected sex.  Also, never leave alone with anyone without letting someone else know where you are going!  Be smart and you won’t put your life or health in danger while you are off exploring new adventures!


Impulsive Moments

Ever have one of those days or nights when you do something out of character?  You usually do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it, but then one day you feel like mixing it up a bit?  I think we all have those moments, hours, days, weeks, or even months when we get a little impulsive.

Usually spring fever brings out the crazy side in even the most cautious person.  After a long cold dark winter you feel like you just want to go out and do something fun.  Maybe you decide to go out with some friends to a party or a bar.  In an impulsive moment you decide to be bold and go up to a complete stranger and hit on them.  Then surprise, surprise, they show interest back.  You think, “What the heck?  You only live once, right?”  So you live in the moment and act like the free spirit you usually aren’t.  You spend the rest of the night totally consumed with this person.  You leave with them and decide a one night stand sounds pretty exciting.  You have sex and fall asleep exhausted.

Then you wake up.  If this isn’t your usual routine you may feel a little panicked.  You feel awkward so you make a hasty exit out the door  in last night’s clothes.  You do the walk of shame across campus or back to your apartment.  What is going through your head at that moment?  You may be thinking, “No harm, no foul” and move on with your life like this moment never happened.  You may be thinking, “What in the hell did I just do?” and feel regret about your decision the night before.  You may be thinking, “I didn’t use protection!” and be worrying about potential STD’s.  You may be thinking, “I’m glad that person wasn’t psycho and didn’t kill me while I was sleeping” and feel fearful thinking about what could have happened.  You may be thinking, “I can’t believe I just did that!” and feel proud of yourself for doing something a little crazy for once.  When you take a risk it is hard to know how you are going to feel afterward.  You may be feeling a mix of all of the above.

It isn’t called a risk for nothing.  When you live in the moment you take a certain amount of risk.  I think it is good to take risks and not weigh every decision to death.  However, you have to be careful about what risks you want to take.  Some may be worth it, and some may not.  A one night stand can be potentially deadly if you don’t use protection.  Some STD’s are life threatening or incurable.  That is a high price to pay for living in the moment.  Some impulsive risks also have the consequence of losing a valued relationship.  On the flip side, taking risks can make you feel more confident and exhilarated.  That is why we take them.  We aren’t sure what the outcome is going to be, but there is a chance it will be a good one.  Some risks we take could even lead us to a better place in our lives.

By nature some people are more risk taking than others.  Some people are also used to having impulsive moments.  They rarely think ahead and usually let go of their losses as quickly as they enjoy their gains in life.  Then there are some people who are cautious by nature.  They rarely live in the moment and can be hard on themselves when they take a risk and lose.  If you feel like what you did was a mistake, don’t be too hard on yourself.  We all live and learn.  Next time you won’t go so far with your impulse because you’ll know the consequences.  I’ve seen people in counseling who have done things they regret in an impulsive moment.  They have a hard time letting go of it.  They may feel anger at themselves, the situation or the other person.  Some people tend to judge their own actions harshly.  I encourage people to look at themselves as a whole.  A moment, day, week, month or even a year of your life doesn’t define the whole of your life.  If you don’t like a certain choice you made, just assure yourself you won’t do it again and do your best to move on.

If you are living in the moment this spring I applaud your free spirit.  However, if you are regretting choices you’ve made, don’t despair.  Use the information to make more informed choices in the future.  You may also choose to take different kinds of risks in life.  If you’ve tried to stop your impulsive behavior and can’t seem to control it, please seek help from someone who can help you through the decision making process.  I’ve said this before, life is about balance.  You don’t want to be too risky, but you don’t want to be afraid of taking risks.  If you feel out of balance with your recent choices, it is okay to seek outside help to get back on track.  Otherwise, I hope your impulsive moments lead you to be a stronger, smarter, more well rounded person!

I have Herpes. What do I do now?

You just got tested for an STI and found out you have herpes.   What do you do now?  First you have to figure out how you got it.  Herpes Simplex Virus has two types.  Type 1 usually causes fever blisters on the mouth or lips but also occurs in the genital region.  Type 2 occurs in the genital area only.  Both HSV 1 & 2 can be spread in between outbreaks of sores.  Someone may not even know they are infected and that is why the infection can spread.  You can only get HSV-2 from sexual contact with someone who is infected with HSV-2.  You can get an HSV-1 infection from oral-oral, genital-oral or genital-genital contact.  Genital HSV 1 outbreaks occur less often the HSV-2.  Once you know who gave you HSV you want to inform them so they can be tested and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others.

Are you the only one?  About 16% of Americans are infected with HSV-2.  This means about 1 out of 6 people between the ages of 14-49 are infected with HSV-2.  More women (1 in 5)  than men (1 in 9) have the infection.  This is because it is easier to spread herpes to females from a male partner.  It is less likely that a female can spread it to a male.  Although this does occur, it is less often.

How long will an outbreak last?  The first outbreak usually occurs about 2 weeks after being exposed and lasts the longest.  One or more blisters will develop and then rupture causing a sore.  The sores can then take 2-4 weeks to heal.  Some people also develop a fever and have swollen glands during the first outbreak.  However, most people don’t ever develop any sores.  Or they are so mild that they aren’t noticed or mistaken for another skin condition.  A person can go weeks, months or years between outbreaks.  If you do develop sores right away after being infected, you can usually expect to have 4 or 5 outbreaks that first year.  Outbreaks after the first one are usually less severe and don’t last as long.  It is possible that a person becomes aware of a first episode years after getting the infection.

Can I get rid of the virus?  There is no cure for HSV.  Herpes stays in the body indefinitely.  Although outbreaks do occur less often over time.  You can also get anti-viral medication that reduces the length and severity of outbreaks and it may also prevent outbreaks while taking the medication.  Also, daily suppressive therapy for symptomatic herpes can reduce transmission to partners.

Are there any complications of genital herpes?  If you do have outbreaks of sores this can be very painful.  It can also cause complications for those who have suppressed immune systems.  It may also be dangerous to the baby if  contracted during pregnancy.  Women who have an active outbreak will have to deliver the baby by cesarean section.  Transmission from mother to baby is very rare.  HSV-2 can also make people more susceptible to contracting the HIV infection.

Other complications include psychological.  Many people with genital herpes feel dirty, contagious, and alone.  They now feel like no one would ever want to touch them much less have sex with them again.  It can take awhile to actually accept that you have an incurable STI.  There is definitely a grief process that takes place.  You will go through periods of anger, depression and denial.  There will be moments of acceptance, but it takes time to come to terms with the diagnosis.  Some people join online support groups for people with HSV-2 and find support through that.  If you are feeling overwhelmed and depressed by your diagnosis, please seek help from a counselor or trusted friend who can help you through the grief process.

Not sure if you’ve been exposed to HSV?  See your doctor to be tested.  If you have sores they will take a sample and test them in a lab.  If you don’t have active sores they will do a blood test to see if they can find antibodies.

Want to prevent spreading HSV?  The only 100% way to prevent any STI is to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term monogamous relationship with someone who has been tested and is uninfected.  To reduce the risk of spreading the infection never have sexual contact with partners during an outbreak.  Always use a condom to reduce the risk of spreading the infection when you are between outbreaks.  Be aware that if you have HSV it is possible to spread the infection even when you take every precaution.  Be open with your partner so they can make an informed decision about the risk they are taking.

For more information please see links below.

www.herpes.com

www.cdc.gov/std/Herpes

Hooking Up

Times continue to change and it seems like relationships in college are becoming more and more casual.  The term hooking up is thrown around often, but I find that not everyone means the same thing when they use it.  How would you define hooking up?  Wikipedia refers to hooking up as certain types of sexual activity outside the context of a romantic relationship.  Wikipedia also goes on to say that this term is used inconsistently…and that is the point of this post.

When I’ve discussed this issue with students I have found that there is some ambiguity around the subject of hooking up.  It could mean that someone is cheating on their partner when they hook up with someone else.  Some people only refer to hooking up when they are cheating on their girlfriend or boyfriend.  It could mean having a one night stand.  For some people they only hook up with someone they know for one night.  They never plan to have sex with this person again and so they refer to it as a hook up.  Sometimes anonymous sex is referred to as a hook up.  This is when someone meets someone and has sex with them within the same day.  They never get to know that person and never see them again.  They basically use each other for sex and quickly move on.  Other people refer to hooking up as an extended casual sex relationship.  The point is to not get emotionally involved and use the relationship for sexual pleasure alone.  It involves meeting for casual sex multiple times, but without any form of  future commitment.  Some people state they are hooking up when they have sex with the same person multiple times yet have no emotional commitment to them.  A hook up can also be with someone who is a friend but not someone you are involved with in a romantic way.  There is an emotional attachment, but both parties have agreed to keep the sex part casual.  Or what is also referred to as “friends with benefits”.

The moral of the story is that hooking up can mean a few different things, but the word casual is the backbone of the definition.  You may want to clarify what kind of hook up you are getting involved in before proceeding.  Also, you need to know yourself well enough to know if you can keep things casual.  Different personality types have an easier time doing this than others.  Some people form attachments more quickly and sex can initiate feelings in some cases.

It is fine to avoid hooking up if it isn’t going to fulfill your needs.  It may seem like everyone is having casual sexual relationships these days so the urge to do the same can be powerful.  It is a great idea in theory, but can have a lot of harmful consequences if you aren’t smart and careful about your choices.  Remember that STI’s are often spread though casual sexual encounters.  Your risk of getting an STI goes up with every person you have sex with.  It may also affect trust issues in future committed relationships if you are honest about how often you were hooking up while single.  We all like to think we are open minded, but when someone says they have had sex with a certain number of people it can affect how that person is then perceived.  It also can bring out insecurities and jealousy in a current partner.  Remember that what you do now can have a great impact on what happens in your future.  So whatever your definition is for hooking up, think through what choices are right for you before going with the flow.

How did I get HPV?

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the most common STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection).  About 50% of sexually active adults will become infected with genital HPV in their lifetime.  About 20 million Americans currently have HPV and 6 million become infected every year.  The good news is that 90% of the time it will clear itself out of the body on its own within 2 years.

It is so common because it can spread even if you use a condom.  There are 40 different types of genital HPV that affect male and female genital area’s and these also can affect the mouth and throat due to oral sex.  It is also very common because most people don’t develop any symptoms and pass it on without knowing it.  It can also develop months after you had sex within an infected person so you may not be able to know who gave it to you.

Common signs and symptoms include:

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area.  The bumps can be raised or flat, small or large or shaped like cauliflower.  This type of HPV can be diagnosed by sight in a doctor’s office.  Genital warts do not cause cancer.  They can be removed with medications given by a physician.   About 1% of sexually active adults has genital warts at any one time.

Cervical Cancer can develop if the HPV isn’t treated and does not clear on its own.  Cervical cancer does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced.  It is usually diagnosed by receiving an abnormal pap smear.  HPV changes the cells in the cervix from normal to abnormal.  A doctor can then treat the abnormal cells to prevent them from changing into cancer over time.  Each year, about 12,000 women get cervical cancer.

Other cancers  can be caused by HPV.  Every year in the U.S.  3,700 women develop vulvar cancer, 1,000 women develop vaginal cancer, 1,000 men develop penile cancer, 2,700 women and 1,700 men develop anal cancer.  About 2,300 women and 9,000 men develop head and neck cancers, although only a minor number of these cases are caused by HPV.  Most head and neck cancers are caused by smoking and heavy drinking.

HPV does have a vaccine that teenagers and young adults can get.  The vaccine protects against two major strains that cause genital warts and two major strains that cause cervical cancer in women.  For men, it protects against two major strains that cause genital warts.

Other ways you can lower your risk of getting HPV is to use condoms every single time you have sex.  Although condoms don’t protect you 100%, they dramatically lower your risk overall.  You can also lower your risk by being in a faithful, monogamous relationship.  Having multiple sexual partners dramatically increases your risk of becoming infected.  The only way to to prevent HPV 100% is to abstain from all sexual activity.

Information in this blog was obtained from the CDC website.  Please see the link below for more information.

http://www.cdc.gov/STD/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm

Condoms?!?

Where’s the condom?  I didn’t bring any condoms.  Are you sure you don’t have any condoms?  Then you may say…Well I’m clean.   I don’t have any STD’s.  Do you have any STD’s?  Your mind is telling you that this person “looks” clean.  Great!  You don’t even need condoms!!

This might have happened to you before.  Either you can’t drive because you’ve been drinking, you are too lazy, or you are too in the moment to worry about getting condoms.  Or ( I hope this isn’t you) you never worry about condoms because you think you are invincible.  You may think it won’t hurt this one time to have unprotected sex.

Let me tell you, it only takes one time to get an STD.  Or to get pregnant.  Many people think since they are using other types of birth control they can skip the condoms.  You can’t skip the condoms if you are at risk to get an STD.  One out of four people contract a STD in their lifetime.  Some of these can’t be treated.

Also, know that oral sex isn’t safe sex!!  You can contract HIV, HPV, Herpes, Syphilis, Gonorrhea, and viral Hepatitis from oral sex.  The risks are slightly lower than having regular sex, but there is still a risk.  Many people don’t think to ask someone to put a condom on before having oral sex.  What do you use when giving oral sex to female partner?  In a pinch, use saran wrap before performing oral sex on a female.  Yes, you heard me right, saran wrap is better than nothing.  You can also cut open a condom and use that as a barrier.  Or you can buy a what is called a latex dental dam to use during oral sex on a female partner.

Following the guidelines below will reduce your risk dramatically of getting an STD:

-Get tested before entering a new sexual relationship.

-Make sure your partner has been tested before having sex with them.

-Get re-tested six months after the last person you had sex with and have a clean report.  (Some STD’s take a few weeks or months to show up in your system)

-Make sure your partner has been tested six months after the last person they had sex with and has a clean report.

-You and your partner are not having sex with anyone else during the same time period, this includes having oral sex.

-You or your partner have never had sex with anyone else before, this includes oral sex.

-You or your partner don’t inject illegal drugs.

Remember abstinence is the only way to guarantee that you won’t get an STD.  People do lie and cheat.   You only know for sure about yourself.  So take care of yourself , be careful, and don’t forget the condoms!!!  Have a safe spring break!!!

How do I tell someone I have an STD??

How hard is it to tell someone you have an STD?  It is probably one of the hardest conversations you can have.  It gets even harder if you have to tell your partner that you have an STD that can’t be cured.

I’ve met with a few people who have STD’s that can’t be cured.  Herpes Simplex Virus, HPV, HIV, and Hepatitis B & C can NOT be cured.   If you are already in a relationship, it can be terrifying to tell the person you love that you may have infected them with an incurable disease.   That is why it is so important to be tested before being sexual in a new relationship, but this does not always happen.  Telling your significant other that you have an STD can put a huge strain on the relationship.  Trust issues come up and grief has to be addressed.  If it can be proven that you got the STD before the relationship started, it can help ease the trust issue.  Sometimes, that is how someone finds out their significant other has cheated on them.  Most of the time cheating on top of an STD leads to a breakup situation.

In most cases, HPV and Hepatitis B or C won’t cause any long term effects.  HPV is usually fought off by the body within a couple of years and usually is caught before it can cause cervical cancer in women through a pelvic exam.  Only rare cases of Hepatitis cause long term health effects.  Herpes is hard for people to accept because it doesn’t go away and can be easily transmitted sexually even when a person isn’t having any symptoms.  HIV is obviously more life threatening and the news is often terrifying.  That is why STD testing and using condoms every time you have sex is so important.

The psychological and emotional effects are sometimes worse than the physical.  The partner who was given the STD has to work through the initial shock, anger and possible depression.  It can be hard to accept but some couples now realize that they can’t reinfect each other and go on to have a healthy sexual relationship.   Forgiveness is possible with strong communication and trust in place.  It is emotionally hard because it isn’t something people often talk to others about.  Some couples may decide not to tell anyone else and only have each other for support.

The other side is finding out you have an incurable STD and you aren’t in a relationship.  I see people who feel so ashamed that they are afraid to start a new relationship.  The conversation about their STD with someone new paralyzes them.  I work through a lot of self esteem issues and guilt with people to help them forgive themselves.  A lot of people say they feel gross and contagious.  It is hard to confidently put yourself out there to meet new people when you feel this way.  We work on focusing on other things they have to offer in a relationship.  After awhile some people who are tired of being alone may venture out, but it is still very intimidating.  They have often been alone for a long time and have a lot of anxiety about being with someone again.  I have had some people go onto dating sites for people who have Herpes Simplex Virus or HIV to find others who are already infected.  This has helped some people find satisfying relationships.  But for many, they continue to be alone for fear of that dreadful conversation they would have to have with a potential partner.

So please be smart about your sex life.  If you don’t have any STDs, be thankful and continue to practice safe sex.  Get tested to avoid the devastating consequence of spreading an STD to someone else.  If you have an STD that is incurable, life isn’t over.  Many people are living happy, healthy lives and many people are in relationships.  For more information please see the following websites listed below.

http://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm

http://www.herpes.com

http://hpv.com/pdc/hpv/index.jsp

http://www.hiv.com

After reading this over, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really tell you how to actually have the conversation.  I wrote a new post to correct this error.  Please click on this link to go directly to the new post:

https://collegerelationships.wordpress.com/2011/o5/23/telling-the-one-you-love-you-have-an-std

Give your sweetheart the gift of STD testing on Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day…the head nurse of our Wellness Center informs me that a lot of condoms are taken from her office this time of year.  I’m very glad that many students use protection.  Last week I had an activity on campus called “Safe Sex Bingo”.  I used a fun activity to get the word out about safe sex.  Many people are unaware of all the STD’s out there and that many of them don’t have any symptoms.  How can you protect yourself from STD’s?  The only 100% effective way is abstinence.  But for those of you who are in a relationship or choosing to have sex for other reasons, the safest way is to use a condom with lubricant every time you have sex.  It is also suggested that you limit your number of partners and get tested regularly.

Again, many STD’s don’t have any symptoms.  HPV is a common STD that can’t be cured.  Many people don’t know they have it unless they get tested.  The prevalence of Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and 2 is dramatically increasing in teens.  This STD also can’t be cured.  When the virus is inactive it causes no symptoms but it can still be spread.  Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are a couple of the most common STD’s.  They can be cured with antibiotics, but yet again, most people don’t have any symptoms and spread these diseases easily to others.

Many people come into counseling because of the stress of contracting an STD.  For those who have contracted STD’s that aren’t curable, it has a huge impact on their self esteem.  It is very devastating to find out that it did happen to you.  Many students also struggle with how to tell their partners or future partners about having an STD.  It is complicated and stressful.  Some students choose to be alone for awhile after contracting an STD because of the shame that they feel.  I work with students on how to deal emotionally with an STD and how to communicate that they have one to the few people who may need to know.  It isn’t the end of the world, but it may feel like it is at the time.  Many people say they don’t get tested because of the fear of finding out the results.  But it is so important that you face that fear and take care of yourself as well as the people you are in sexual relationships with.

So this Valentine’s Day, give the gift of getting tested for your sweetheart.  If you are single, its also important that you get tested and put your mind at ease.