The Sex Files #7: When "Positive" Isn't a Good Thing

Welcome to the Sexual Health blog, run by BCSSH!  Here’s the simple version of who we are: we’re a group of students who think that condoms are important.  For the longer version, see our website!

So you decided to be a responsible, sexually healthy person.  You read our blog and noticed the eight thousand or so times that we reiterated the importance of getting tested for STIs.  You saw us crazy BCSSH-ers shouting in the quad, waving quarter sheets imploring all sexually active BC students to utilize the STI testing services at Health Services as part of the STI Testing Awareness Campaign.  You thought about it and said to yourself, “You know what?  Getting tested is important for my health.  Plus, if I do, BCSSH will give me a nifty sticker that says ‘I just got tested!  You should, too!’ which will look really cute on my Mac/water bottle/whatever.”

So you went and got tested.  And you tested positive.  So now what?

Testing positive for STIs can be a very serious and emotional experience.  But it’s important to know that there are resources out there that can help you cope, get the treatment you need, and communicate your status to your partner(s).  Here are some key steps to follow that will help you navigate through this difficult time.

Get Emotional Support
It’s completely normal for you to be upset or struggling emotionally with your diagnosis.  As with any major life event, don’t hesitate to rely on a support network - friends, family members, etc. - to help you through.  Whether you need a sounding board for making major decisions or just a shoulder to lean on, make sure to turn to someone you trust.  Bottling up emotions and pretending you don’t need help when you do are not healthy approaches to this kind of situation, and we highly discourage it.

That being said, if you’re feeling like you may require professional emotional support, seeking out counseling services is definitely an important option to consider.  Unfortunately, our university counseling services may not be the most well-versed on this issue (sexual health-related drawback #47 of attending a Catholic college), but they could still help in redirecting you to organizations that do offer STI counseling services.

Feel free to reach out to any of the organizations below, all in the Boston area, that offer counseling on a wide range of sexual health issues including STI testing and counseling services.

Planned Parenthood - just down the B line on Babcock Street
Fenway Community Health Center - 1340 Boylston Street, 16 Haviland Street
Massachusetts General Hospital - 55 Fruit Street
St. Elizabeth's Medical Center - 736 Cambridge Street
Boston Medical Center: Project Trust - 725 Albany Street

Tell Your Partner(s)
The most important part of communicating with your partner or partners is to do it quickly.  Don’t put it off, no matter how much it scares you.  Diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics if they are caught soon enough.  Sharing this information immediately can also help prevent the spread of STIs by former partners who might be infected and not know it.

When you sit down with your partner to have The Talk, make sure you’re alone, with minimal distractions.  This is not a conversation to have in the Chocolate Bar.  Try to stay as calm as possible.  Remember that the information you are imparting to him or her is potentially lifesaving.  For more ideas on how to broach this subject, check out the American Social Health Association’s tips.

Get Treatment
Boston College Health Services offers confidential STI treatment.  If you don’t feel comfortable seeking treatment at BC, there are several options throughout the greater Boston area.  The Greater Boston Health Center run by Planned Parenthood (located on the Babcock St. T stop on the B line) offers testing and treatment for bacterial vaginosis, genital warts, syphilis, chlamydia, and other STIs.  For the full list of services provided, click here.

Continue Having Sex Safely
Getting diagnosed with an STI doesn’t have to be the end of your life, or your sex life.  It is possible to continue pursuing sexual activity.  Just make sure to take all the necessary precautions to protect both you and your partners.  Use condoms, dental dams, etc. whenever engaging in any type of sexual activity that can transmit an STI.

We also highly recommend you communicate your status to your partner before you start engaging in sexual activity with him or her.  This conversation should be approached in the same way you approached The Talk with your previous sexual partners:  calmly, openly, and, most of all, privately.

Although it can seem scary to talk about your STI with new partners, it’s better to be open with them in the beginning than to risk losing their trust later after engaging in sexual activity.  Making your partner aware of your status will help you both feel more comfortable together and to ensure you are engaging in safer sex practices.

Stay Smart, Stay Safe
Finding out you have an STI can be a troubling experience, but it’s important for you to remember the wealth of resources that are available.  Now that you know you’ve tested positive, make sure to take care of yourself emotionally and physically, communicate with your previous and future partners, and make STI testing a regular habit in order to stay as sexually healthy as possible.  Stay safe!

Peace, love, and lube,
BC Students for Sexual Health