If you are reading this, it is because, you most likely, believe you have been exposed to an STD. This exposure has led you to seek out information about what steps you should take and what are your options. This is a great start. To make things simple, we have broken this issue down into five (5) easy steps.
Before we begin. This, as always, is a stigma and judgmental free article. How you possibly became exposed to an STD is not our business, nor anyone else’s. We are simply providing some tips based on our professional and personal histories. Take what you need, and leave the rest behind.
Getting yourself educated about each of the STDs, their symptoms and treatments, is the first place you should start. Knowing the symptoms will not only help calm you down, but also help guide your medical professional in the right direction as for diagnosis. But, our preferred method is to be tested for ALL STDs, every three (3) months, or less if needed. NO matter if you are symptomatic or not.
STEP 1: Breath and try to remain calm
This might sound like a simple task, but it is an important one that will dictate everything that you do next. If you are stressed, upset, emotional and or irrational, these are the types of decisions you will make. And consequences you’ll have to live with. The best thing you can do is, take a deep breath and stay calm. Contracting an STD is as normal and natural as having sex itself. You are not a bad person, or deserving of any sort of stigma or punishment. Even from yourself.
No matter which STD you believe you have been exposed to, the treatment options and possible cures have come a long way in the last few years. This includes reducing the number of pills prescribed, the length of treatment and even possible side effects. This is what you need to keep in mind as you try to relax.
Along with this task, we HIGHLY recommend you NOT begin telling everyone you know of your concerns. Not all of your friends, family, or work mates will be as accepting and tolerant as you might need them to be at this moment. The very last thing you need are negative comments, judgments or stigma as you attempt to work through this issue.
The exception to this advice would be if you have a close friend or relative that you KNOW for a FACT you can trust, will keep your confidence and will be a helpful sounding board. This person could be a great listener, able to speak from personal experience or just provide a shoulder to lean on. Your choice. But do choose wisely.
STEP 2: Get confirmation
At this point, you only suspect that you might have contracted an STD. Even if you have definitely been exposed, this does not mean that you have also been infected. The only way to know for sure, is to get tested by medical professionals.
Yes, we know that home testing kits are readily available, but they do have a higher error rate than medical laboratories and if you do test positive for an STD, you will need to be retested by a doctor before any treatments can be prescribed. If the home test does return a negative result, we still strongly advise you to have another done by professionals. Human error can create false negatives. Better to be safe than sorry.
Where you get tested is IMPORTANT!
You have four (4) options when it comes to getting tested for STDs. Each one comes with their own pros and cons. We can not recommend one specifically for you because your particular circumstances will be the deciding factors. For example, do you have or need healthcare insurance, do you currently have a medical provider, are you “openly gay” or will you need discretion?
- HOME TEST
Curently, one may purchase home testing STD kits for HIV, Chlymadia and Gonorhea only. Depending on which kit you purchase, you will receive results at home, within an alloted time frame, or you may need to send your sample away to a company for processing. Here are some basic tips to remember when deciding to go the home testing route
- If you’re buying a self-test kit online or at a local pharmacy, it’s important to be wary of the claims they make, as they may be misleading.
- Before using one, make sure the kit is sealed, without any damage to the packaging, and is within its expiration date.
- Check that the instructions for use are clear and easy to follow.
- You should also make sure it has a CE quality assurance mark. This means that, provided you use it correctly, the kit will work properly and is safe.
- A self-test kit should never replace a health professional’s advice. WE STRONLY ADVISE YOU NOT TO USE HOME TESTS unless absolutely necessary.
2. STD testing center or mobile
Because of the HIV epidemic, there have been many HIV/LGBT orgs that have begun to provide STD tests to their community and clients. Depending on where you live, you might have come across one of their mobile testing sites or even their brick and mortar building.
Mobile testing centers, meaning ones located within non profit owned and operated buses or vans, provide the convivence of location and timing. They travel between many neighborhoods and even public events like street fairs and Gay Pride Events.
Unlike with home testing kits, testing centers are staffed by trained professionals that are proficient in ensuring each test is conducted and processed properly as well as sent to the lab on time, and without error.
These centers are able to test for EVERY STD, including HIV but also those which require a blood draw like Hepatitis C. This allows you to get tested for as many as you need, all at one time.
All mobile testing centers operated by non profits provide their services for FREE to each person.
Testing center staff are trained healthcare professionals who will be able to answer any questions you have about your sexual health and/or the tests themselves.
Even though most HIV orgs that operate mobile STD testing centers do NOT have a medical center, some do. And for those that do not, it is not uncommon for them to have some form of a LINKAGE to CARE program that can situate you with a medical provider, if you test positive.
Mobile testing centers do not afford you much privacy, as they roll down public streets and large gatherings, with their company logo and STD TESTING CENTER printed in bold letters. If you are not “openly gay” or want privacy, this is not a great option for you.
The turn around time for most testing centers is between five (5) to seven (7) business days. Maybe longer. If you are in need of more rapid results, you may need to go elsewhere.
Not all testing centers, mobile or brick and mortar provide their services for free. Some are for profit organizations that charge per test. This can become costly, very quickly.
Linkage to Care is very important if you test positive for an STD. Not all testing centers are able to provide this service. Yes, some are run by medical providers but the largest and most well known HIV orgs do not provide healthcare/medical services. This means, they can test you for STDs but not provide medication or treatment for your infection. You will need an actual medical doctor for this.
You may need to sign up to become a client, and this process includes filling out a long list of forms, disclosing personal information including your financial and employment status.
3. MEDICAL PROVIDER
This is our preferred option but we also understand that it is not feasible for everyone. If you currently do not have a medical provider, we have an article, HERE, that can help you choose the right one for your personal needs and healthcare situation. The benefits to being treated with your own medical provider are great, but they include:
Personal history and knowledge of your particular medical issues and lifestyle
If you test positive for an STD, they will be able to prescribe the right treatment options as well as monitor your success.
Because you have a history with your provider, there will be a certain level of comfort when discussing your sexual history and risk level.
4. Govt Health dept,
Nations around the world have been providing free medical care for their citizens, in one shape, form or fashion, of another for ages. The type and quality of that care will vary greatly between not only nations but also individual states, but for the most part, their services are either free or low cost.
Around the late 1960’s to early 1970s, many large cities in the United States began opening government run STD testing centers. Gay males from New York to San Francisco where known to frequent these well known spaces that provided not only the care they needed but also a social environment that encouraged communal testing.
Depending on where you live, such programs may still be on offer. Even if they are not close to where you live, they still provide those basic STD tests as well as medications. This is where things may get tricky. Some are able to provide the treatment medications themselves for FREE, others will provide you with a prescription which must be filled at a pharmacy and paid for by you and or your insurance company.
The bottom line is, getting tested, no matter where or how you choose, is the most important decision you need to make. You can not assume you are negative without medical confirmation. And not knowing will cause you untold amounts of emotional grief and possible physical suffering in the short and long runs.
STEP 3: Self Care
It does not matter if this is your first STD scare, you are living with HIV or HEP C, or if you have gone through this process in the past, self care is very important to your mental, emotional and physical health at this time. The wait for test results can be as short as 15 -60 minutes for an HIV RAPID TEST, or as long as five (5) to seven (7) working days for all other STD results. This means you will have some time on your hands as you await your results. Use it wisely.
Eating & Sleeping
If we assume, for a moment, that your test results will be positive, it is even more important that you take care to give your body every chance to properly heal from infection. This includes getting at least seven (7) hours of sleep each night and making sure to eat at least three (3) times a day, HEALTHY MEALS. At this time, your body is under attack and needs as much rest and fuel as you can provide. And don’t forget to stay hydrated with a good amount of water, each day.
No matter who you are, what you do for a living, where you live or who you might live with, you are most likely under a great amount of stress. We all are. It is the nature of our current society. But, living this way is bad for our overall health. Using this time to de-stress your life as much as possible will help improve yout outcomes if you need to take treatment for an STD. Some STDs like herpes flare under stress, while it weakens the immune system when fighting HIV. Stress can also increase the physical symptoms of many STDs, causing rashes and other physical manifestations.
Worrying about your test results will not change the outcome. What’s done is done. So, take some time to watch movies, get some much needed rest, play video games, read a book, or whatever it is you do to relax. We know this will be a harder ask for some than for others, but do your best not to focus on the results. All you can do now, is wait.
Don’t have sex with others
We believe sex is great for self care, but not right now. You could possibly be contagious with an STD, and sex would infect others. It could be worse if you are in a relationship because you would begin a cycle of passing the infection back and forth. If you are in need of some sexual healing, masturbation is still a great option.
Do NOT spend this time finding someone to blame
Contracting any STD is not fun, especially if you are symptomatic. But blaming yourself, the place you think you might have been infected or the guy(s) will not make things better. This actually makes things worse. First off, you did nothing wrong to be blamed for. Secondly, neither did the place or the guy(s). Most times, he had no idea he even had an STD. And no matter what some will say, there is not a cabal of guys purposefully infecting other guys with STDs for shits and giggles. Finally, blame leads to self pity, but worse, self doubt.
STDs are as old as the human race. You are not the first gay man to be exposed, nor will be the last. Guilt is not a part of self care, it is destructive and useless.
STEP 4: The results
Now it is time for real talk for grown folks. Your test(s) will either be positive or negative for infection. There is no in-between or maybe. This means you need to prepare yourself for either outcome. But we do not mean DECIDE, without evidence, that you are STD positive, and begin freaking out about your impending doom.
Even if you have symptoms which align with a particular STD, this does not mean that you are definitively infected with it. That bump on your cock, could just be a bump. That rash on your ass, could just be a simple skin irritation. But, also remember, around 50% of males are asymptomatic when positive for an STD infection. So, you may have contracted an illness and not know it. Let’s start at the beginning.
- You will be notified of your test results. Depending on where you were tested, this may involve a phone call to visit your medical provider (no matter the result), an email or text with a code and/or link to sign into a private system to view your results, or hanging out in the waiting room until called back in.
- If your results are negative, this does not mean your journey has ended. At some point in your life, you will be right back in this place again. Not because you are a bad person but because STDs are very common and if you have sex, you will most likely be exposed numerous times, even if you use protection. Take what you have learned from this experience, decide if you need to make any changes to your sexual habits, and move on with your life.
- If the results are positive, the path branches out a bit more. There is a difference between testing positive for HIV, Herpes &/or HEP C, verses Chlamydia & LGV, Gonorrhea, or Syphilis. The first set are going to be life long medical concerns with treatments but not cures. They will also require specialists in infection disease/HIV. This all may sound scary, but as we have said, science and technology have come a long way in the past decades and even those diagnosed with HIV are predicted to live normal, healthy and long lives. Counseling and Linkage to Care may be provided for those with a positive STD test, but especially for HIV. Do not be ashamed to take it, if you need it.
- If you test positive for one or more of the second set of STDs, your treatment may be as simple as one shot, one pill, a week of medication or for LGV 21 days of it. Either way, the antibiotics WORK, are effective, have mostly no side effects and are well tolerated. BUT, they must be taken as prescribed and until finished.
It is still very important NOT to have sex with a partner until your prescription treatment is complete and then, ONE WEEK AFTER THAT. This allows for the medication to work and have the STD FULLY cleared from your system. Until then, you are still contagious and may infect others.
After you have completed your treatment, this does not make you immune from reinfection. Actually, you most likely will be reinfected with the same STD multiple times over the course of your sexual life. But, now that you know what to expect, the next time will be much easier to handle.
Finally, if you have received a positive HIV result, we have a great article that walks you through the first year of living with this virus. It was written by guys that have been in the exact same place, are happily living life, with high T cell counts and undetectable viral loads. Let them share with you their tips and advice. HIV has changed, make sure your knowledge and information has changed with the times too. Undetectable = Untransmittable (#ueqaulsu)
STEP 5: Partner notification
Many straight people will quickly advise you to tell your sexual partners immediately if or when you believe you have been exposed to an STD, so that they may themselves get tested. But, as gay men, we know that this is not only easier said than done, but not always a smart thing to do.
Before deciding to tell any of your past or current sexual partners about this experience, make sure that you have been given an actual positive diagnosis. There is no reason to scare guys. You should want to be able to provide whomever you tell with the most amount of accurate information, including the name of the STD(s), time frame of exposure and even what symptoms you had.
The reality of many of our sex lives is that we may not know the name or contact information of the person who we contracted an STD from. We also may not be sure exactly from whom we were infected. The last thing you want to do is inform, or even worse, accuse, the wrong guy.
If you are in a relationship of any kind, from boyfriends, partners, husbands, friends with benefits or plain ole fuck buddies, we highly suggest you inform these partners as soon as possible. They deserve to know that they have been exposed to an STD and may be infected. Also, they should get tested, and if necessary, treated as quickly as possible, for their own health, but also to ensure no others are infected, and or the STD is not passed back to you at a later time.
Partner notification is not an easy decision to make. It can ruin relationships and possibly create dangerous physical confrontations. Only you know the personalities of those you have regular sexual contact with, so only you can make this decision. You are an adult, and are having sex with other adult males, so they have a responsibility to take care of their own sexual health as well as maintain a regular STD testing schedule. Do what you think is best, but don’t send out a bulk email to everyone that attended a sex party with you.
Before you go….
At this point, it will be obvious that we did not mention safer sex in this article. The reason is that how you have sex, is none of our or anyone else’s business. But also, even if you use condoms each and every time you have sex, you will still find yourself exposed to STDs, if your sexual partner(s) has one.
Condoms are almost NEVER used during gay male oral sex, bacterium like chlamydia can live on sex toys and even fingers, and kissing & rimming are known to transmit gonorrhea. There is no such thing as SAFE SEX. Contracting an STD does not mean that you did something wrong or should be shamed for your sexual habits, likes or fetishes.
This is how stigma is created, and it keeps guys from getting tested as often as we should. Instead of shaming, we prefer informing and encouraging members of our community to get tested AT LEAST every three (3) months. Even if you don’t have symptoms. If everyone did this, we could stop the spread of STDs quickly and make sex much more fun again, without fear or worry of infection.
For those who do HATE condoms, there are options: Click HERE