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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » EXPERT ADVICE » Emergencies and Crises » STI(?) Panic

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Author Topic: STI(?) Panic
Joanie
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Member # 97872

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Hetero, cis female here. A couple of weeks a ago, I went on a date. Things went pretty well, and there was some hands to genitals contact after dinner. I've never been sexually active beyond that.

Then yesterday, I noticed something unusual downstairs: a swollen scab about the size of a pencil eraser on my vulva. This sent me into a panic. I've googled around, and it seems that the symptoms line up most closely with everybody's BFF, herpes--well, the symptom, at least. It's just the one bump. No strange odor or anything, no collection of bumps and scars, no other weirdness.

However, I do have a nasty cold, which according to the info. online could be a cold, or could be first outbreak herpes symptoms.

My question is this: now what? Do I run-not-walk to the OBGYN and the this shit looked at? The last time I went to the doctor on a panic instinct, it turned out that what I thought was skin cancer was actually just patches of dry skin. I'd rather not pay a copay for "Oh, you must have cut yourself with a fingernail and it got scabbed over." (Um... what are the chances that it's just that??). Do I give it a week and see whether it heals up, then make an appointment?

And if it turns out that I have herpes, what's the best move for me to make? Obviously, text the guy I went out with and tell him he's an ******* for not giving me a heads up, but after that? How do I go about entering the brave new world of sexuality if I'm already damaged goods?

Finally, I know that no matter what, it'll take time before I know what's up down there. Any tips for not panicking myself to death while I wait?

Posts: 3 | From: Arizona | Registered: Oct 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
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Hi Joanie and welcome to Scarleteen,

Manual sex--touching a partner's genitals--is a low-risk sexual activity when it comes to STI (sexually transmitted infection) transmission. There are a few things, like Herpes, that can be transmitted this way.

So, for example, if he did have Herpes, and you touched his genitals and then touched your own without washing your hands, transmission is possible.

Then, as you say, it's also possible that your vulva got irritated by a fingernail or something else, and scabbed over.

Considering that you did have this sexual contact, I would suggest going to the gynecologist to have this checked out. If it's a false alarm, they'll at least be able to suggest how you can help the irritation heal.

You know, I don't think it would be very fair, if you were to get a diagnosis of Herpes or any other STI, to dress someone down for not telling you. A lot of people have STIs and don't know it. Many STIs are asymptomatic (without symptoms), or have such mild symptoms that they just discount them as something else, just as you're not sure what it is that you're experiencing right now.

People with STIs are also not "damaged goods" just as people with cancer or lupus or multiple sclerosis aren't damaged goods. Many STIs are pretty prevalent because of the shame around getting tested (and, for some STIs, treated) and the idea of people with STIs as damaged goods just promotes this idea that we have to be quiet, secretive, and shamed about these things...which in turn leads to more people having STIs because they don't want to go get tested, don't know how to protect themselves, or don't know how to talk to their partners about safer sex or about having an STI in the first place..

I do understand that the idea of possibly having something that might not ever completely go away, and that might change the way you live your life a little bit, is scary. At this point though, we don't know what this is.

So, how about making an appointment with your doctor and going to have it checked out?

IN terms of not panicking, I think it might be helpful to put this in perspective and remind yourself that there is nothing you can do about it until you have it looked at and tested. As always, the usual things we would do to ensure not panicking, such as distracting ourselves with pleasant pastimes, remembering to breathe, getting the support of a friend, etc, apply here.

Would you find it helpful to read some factual information about STIs?

--------------------
Robin

Posts: 6066 | From: Washington DC suburbs | Registered: Dec 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Joanie
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Thanks so much for getting back to me quickly. Logically, I know that it's not helpful to be pissed at the guy I went out with, but I can't help it. But regardless, I WILL have to call him, so as a follow up, if this turns out to be not a self-inflicted accident, are there any good resources out there for rehearsing/figuring out how to tell somebody that they might need to get checked out? Because it's going to be an awkward phone call, and any advice I can get on THAT would be a big help. ("Hey! You gave me herpes. How was your weekend?" doesn't seem like it would work well, you know?)

And a second follow up: My OBGYN's office tends to be busy, which means even though I called and left a message with their scheduling office, I probably won't be able to get an exam for several days. Is there anything in particular I should do to take care of the "area" in the interim? Extra soap? Neosporin? Exorcisms?

And a third and final follow up: in future, how does one make manual sex safer? Presumably latex gloves would have the same effect as a condom, but gloves totally don't come in convenient little packets like condoms do. Is it just a matter of "Dude, wash your hands really well before they come anywhere near my junk"?

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Robin Lee
Volunteer Assistant Director
Member # 90293

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Hi There,

Navigating safer sex can be as simple as both of you washing your hands before you touch each other. After all, it's not just you protecting yourself from them, but you protecting them from you. Yes, I know you haven't had any sexual contact before, but any partner you have might not know that, and will appreciate you wanting to keep things safer for both of you. STIs aside, it's a good idea to wash or otherwise clean hands (hand sanitizer is good in a pinch) before touching one's own or someone else's genitals. We often carry germs, bacteria, and even dirt on our hands that we wouldn't want to have anywhere near anyone's sensitive genitalia.

Gloves are also an option, and could be carried in a clean baggie in your purse.

we recently published this advice column, and while it's focussed more on condom use, you might find some of the suggestions and perspective in it helpful.

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/breaking_a_no_condom_habit

In terms of how to care for your vulva until you can see the doctor, the best suggestion I can make is to be gentle with it. You could always call during office hours and talk with a nurse to see if they have any more specific suggestions.

IN terms of how to talk to your partner if you do test positive for anything, we can talk about that more specifically if you should find yourself needing to do that, but in general, being relaxed and honest works well, saying something like: "I just had a check-up at the gyn and they did some tests. I tested positive for ... and I wanted to let you know since we were sexual with each other and you'll probably want to get tested yourself."

What did you think of what I said above about how people who have STIs aren't "damaged goods"? Did it make sense?

--------------------
Robin

Posts: 6066 | From: Washington DC suburbs | Registered: Dec 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Joanie
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Member # 97872

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I understand, it's just hard to face the thought that I might be left for the rest of my life with something nasty and infectious. I spent a lot of time in religious schools, which means that a lot of that "damaged goods" talk has become a part of my internal messaging system. It's funny--I've given that exact same talk to friends before, trying to make sure they didn't feel lost or broken because of something they done, or been caught doing, or gotten infected with, and unless someone was the type of horrible person to not inform their partners about their risks, I'd never judge someone for their status. When it comes to myself, though, I still feel like I've been broken in a way that I can't fix and didn't deserve.

Are there good resources out there for navigating one's sex life when one has an STI?

Posts: 3 | From: Arizona | Registered: Oct 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Joanie: there are some good resources. So, by all means, after you've gotten looked at and tested, if it turns out you do have an STI, and we know which one, give a shout and we'll get you a list. [Smile]

You know, if it helps, I grew up in a hospital, basically. (My mother was a nurse, we were poor, so she was always doing double-shifts, therefore, it felt like a second home.) Most likely because of growing up like that, to me, illness is illness. It's not "nasty" or "dirty" and people with illness aren't broken: they're people. With illness. Which is a very human part of being human, and something pretty much no one is going to be able to avoid in their lives.

It's also not about what we do or don't deserve: it's just about being human.

I get how if you were raised with misinformation and stigma around sex and illness, you might see sexually transmitted illness as somehow radically different from every other kind. But really, that's just false, and that truly is based in people wither having ignorance about that kind of illness, or putting arbitrary value judgments on it, often to suit their own personal agendas.

That doesn't mean that I expect you to read that and magically shove off formative years of crummy approaches to and information about this. Obviously, you can't do that. But at the very least, if you can start knowing what you learned was wrong and really quite inhumane, it can make countering this stuff in your head, when it comes up, a lot easier.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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