Loving couple dealing with an STD in relationship

How to deal with an STD in a relationship: key tips to keep in mind

Medically reviewed on March 28, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also commonly referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are quite common in the United States. According to the CDC, as many as 1 in 5 people in the U.S. are infected with an STI [1]. If you’re one of the millions of infected individuals, you might be concerned about how you can safely deal with your STD in a relationship.

The good news is that regular testing, treatment, and safe sexual practices can allow you and your partner to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship.

This guide will walk you through how to deal with an STD in a relationship so that both you and your partner can remain physically and emotionally well.

Step #1: Discuss STDs with your partner

The first step to dealing with an STD in a relationship is talking about it. You and your partner should speak about your sexual health and:

  • Answer each other’s questions
  • Discuss your history of STDs

Open communication between the two of you about your sexual health is important for both of your safety. You must tell your partner (or they you) about any transmissible infections since you could pass these infections to each other.

What’s the difference between an STI and an STD?

Sometimes, the terms STI and STD are used interchangeably. However, there is a key difference between the two [2]:

  • STIs – STI stands for sexually transmitted infection. These infections are the immediate result of sexual contact with another infected individual. Some STIs present symptoms that let you know you’re infected. Others might not produce any symptoms, meaning you might not know you’ve been infected. Some STIs go away on their own while others turn into STDs.
  • STDs– Sexually transmitted diseases result from STIs. If a sexually transmitted infection, such as HPV, goes untreated, it can disrupt your body’s normal functions. Sometimes, this can even lead to the development of certain types of cancers or other illnesses.

Finally, while all STDs result from STIs, not all STIs become STDs. It’s important to know the severity of your infection or illness so that you and your partner can make informed decisions about your relationship and sexual activities.

Step #2: Educate yourselves about the infection

The old saying knowledge is power is certainly true when it comes to your sexual health. Learning as much as you can about your or your partner’s STD will give you the information you need to navigate your relationship safely.

STIs fall into three distinct categories, including:

  • Bacterial STIs – Sexually transmitted bacterial infections include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. These are typically treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, one dose of antibiotics is sufficient, although some cases may require more.
  • Viral STIs – Viral STIs include hepatitis B, HPV, herpes, and HIV. These infections aren’t curable, but they are manageable with treatment. If you have a viral STI, it’s important to seek treatment right away before your STI turns into a more serious STD.
  • Parasites – Parasites can also cause STIs. Trichomoniasis is an example of a parasitic STI. Parasitic infections are often treated using antibiotics, insecticides, and other means.

Across all three of these categories, the most common STIs/STDs include:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Gonorrhea
  • HIV
  • Syphilis
  • Hepatitis B
  • Genital warts
  • Chlamydia
  • Genital herpes
  • Trichomoniasis

Your specific treatment regimen will depend on the type of infection (or infections) you have. Some bacterial infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, will sometimes occur together.

Common STI/STD symptoms

Some STIs may result in pretty clear symptoms, while others don’t have any at all. If you or your partner already have an infection, you should keep an eye out for symptoms. Noticeable symptoms might indicate that you have another infection or that your existing infection is worsening.

Common symptoms include [4]:

  • Pain while urinating
  • Blisters, sores, or warts on the genitals
  • Rashes or itching in the gentle area
  • Unusual genital discharge

It’s important to keep an eye out for any of these symptoms so you can get treatment as quickly as possible if needed.

Step #3: Practice safe sex

Another important step you and your partner will need to take if one or both of you has an STI or STD is to practice safe sex. Actually, you should always practice safe sex, but taking extra precautions if one of you has an infection can help prevent passing the infection.

The CDC offers several recommendations for protecting yourself from infection during sex [5]:

  • Condoms – Use barrier protection in the form of external or internal condoms for safety. More data is available on the efficacy of external condoms, but limited information indicates that internal condoms can help protect you from infection as well.
  • Cervical diaphragms – Some studies also indicate that a diaphragm may offer protection against some forms of STIs. However, medical professionals don’t recommend relying solely on a diaphragm for protection.
  • Topical applications – Spermicides and microbicides may offer some protection. However, neither is as effective as the use of external condoms, so they shouldn’t be your sole form of protection.

When used correctly, condoms typically offer the most effective protection against the spread of STIs.

Finally, if you or your partner is using a form of hormonal or non-hormonal birth control, such as the pill or an IUD, remember that these only help prevent pregnancy. They do not offer protection against STIs.

Step #4: Get tested regularly

Regular testing is a must for couples dealing with an STI or STD. So how do you know which tests you need? Your healthcare professional can assist you by asking a few questions about your sexual history and determing the best test for each of you.

Some commonly used tests include [6]:

  • Urine test – A simple urine test can often detect chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as some other bacterial infections.
  • Blood test – Blood tests are also helpful STI and STD detectors. Some common infections detectable through a blood screening include genital herpes, syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV.
  • Cheek swab – Cheek swabs are an alternative to urine testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. A healthcare provider may also use a cheek swab to test for syphilis, trichomoniasis, and herpes.
  • Physical exam – In some cases, a physical exam can also show signs of an STD, especially if the infection presents with visible symptoms, such as genital warts or genital herpes.

Finally, some other testing may require a throat swab, pap smear, or swab of another area of the body to detect specific infections.

Step #5: Stay on top of your emotional well-being

Having an STI or STD doesn’t prevent you and your partner from enjoying a happy and healthy relationship. Instead, you’ll just need to take a few extra steps to ensure that you’re properly managing the infection. Education and safe sexual practices are key components to dealing with an STD in a relationship.

Regular testing for STDs is also critical. This is where Everlywell at-home STD testing can help.

We offer a variety of sexual health test options, including disease-specific and common STD tests.

Plus, you can complete any of our tests discreetly in the comfort of your own home. Get started today to stay on top of your sexual health and wellness.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections Prevelance, Incidence, and Cost Estimates in the United States. CDC. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

STI vs. STD: Key Differences. Tulane University School of Public Health. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

The Presentation, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections. PubMed. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

Sexually Transmitted Infections. NHS. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

Sexually Transmitted Infections Treatment Guidelines, 2021. CDC. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

How Does STD Testing Work? Planned Parenthood. URL. Accessed March 28, 2022.

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