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"I Have A...": How to Handle the News About STDs

Okay, it's 2006 and we are not strangers to sexually transmitted infections. (Don't freak out just yet...this isn't to scare you, but it is a reality check). According to recent statistics 65 million Americans have some sort of incurable STD. Yeah, 65 million...so, there stands a good chance that someone may tell you that they have one, and you are going to have to decide what to do and how to do it.

A young man recently wrote to me with this concern:

I have a new girlfriend who has informed me that she has herpes. I am very happy that she has been up front and open about it, because I know that it was extremely difficult for her to tell me and she gave me the option of ending the relationship at that point. I care about her and don't want this to effect the relationship, but obviously I have concerns. Is it possible to still have a somewhat normal sexual relationship with her? I just don't know whether I should have sex with her....and I really want to. I can only assume that she wants the same or she would have never told me in the first place. How should I proceed?

First of all, I am so impressed on so many levels. Here is a man who is actually taking the time to get advice and he is aware of the courage that it took for his girlfriend to tell him of her herpes status. Second, his girlfriend should be commended for her honesty - for her willingness to lay it on the line knowing that there may be unexpected (or heartbreaking) consequences. (And while the number of STD infections concerns me, I am so proud that people are communicating honestly about their sexual health!).

And as many of you well know, this situation that this man wrote about is all too common. You may be on the receiving end of the conversation, or you might be the "confessor"...either way, it's not an easy discussion to have.

The best thing we can all do (other than be upfront) is take the time to learn more about what it means to have an STD and how to best protect ourselves. Currently, the best protection we have against STDs (other than avoiding sexual contact altogether) are condoms. And yes, even though herpes can still spread through skin-to-skin contact, condoms do offer some protection - which is a lot better than using nothing at all!

So if someone tells you, "I have _________ (fill in the blank)", please don't panic right away. Take the time to listen, to ask questions, do some research on your own, and then make an educated decision. And if that means going to your partner's doctor with him/her to talk/ask questions, well, that's okay too. In the end, it's your decision, but try not to hurt the person that you care about.

Have you been there? How have you handled the news? Or how would you want someone to respond to you? (Don't worry - you can post anonymously. You don't have to "out" yourself!!!)

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Been on the receiving end of the HPV conversation. Thankful for condoms and the Internet and smart, calming doctors!

We used condoms. He told me one person had simply walked away before. I wasn't going to do that. I *really* valued him being honest and upfront about it, too.

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