STDs: What to Know If You Haven't Dated in a While
Getting back out there after divorce can seem daunting. Naturally, after leaving a relationship, there may be some uncertainty and anxiety surrounding meeting new people, dating, and sex. Luckily, there is no race to compete in. You will decide when you are ready.
Once you decide to get back out there, there are a few things to consider, especially if it's been a while since you played the dating game.
Are you at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD)?
Ending a long-term relationship or marriage can be scary. Attempting to start dating again can be even scarier. Long-term monogamous relationships can often eliminate the fear of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), so you may need a refresher before taking the next step with someone new.
For starters, it's always a good idea to get tested for all potential STDs before moving forward with a new partner. You can even request they do the same. Some may worry about that being an awkward conversation, but it is in the best interest of all parties. If they have been recently tested, it is totally acceptable to ask when that occurred and what the results were.
Other questions to ask include the following:
- How many partners have you had since you were last tested?
- Did you practice safe sex?
- Do you have these talks with all new sexual partners?
Any time you gain a new sexual partner, the risk is there. Activities such as unprotected sex with multiple partners and using shared needles place people in the high-risk category, so be sure to seek out the necessary information.
What STDs are out there?
In addition to the term STD, you may hear the term sexually transmitted infection (STI). These terms are used interchangeably and mean the same thing. The U.S. sees more than 25 million STDs each year, so it's safe to say that they are fairly common.
Anyone can get an STD, so be sure you understand the basics about the types out there so you know what to look for and how they may be treated.
Herpes simplex is a virus that causes infections on the skin. It is a lifelong virus. Typically, people diagnosed with herpes are in the acute stage of an outbreak, which can come and go.
Herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2) is the virus known as genital herpes. This virus is transmitted to people who have come in contact with the sores of those infected with the virus. The most common time that the virus is spread is when someone has active lesions, but it can be spread even if the person shows no signs or symptoms.
Symptoms may include sores in the anal or genital area; itching, burning, or tingling; pain with urination; and more. There are treatments that can lessen symptoms, but the virus never truly goes away. HSV remains dormant until triggers activate it again, which can occur a few times per year. Common triggers include illness, stress, sun, and menstrual cycles.
Genital warts are a type of STD that causes warts to grow in or around the genitalia. One of the most common causes of genital warts is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common STD. It has no cure, but treatments are available for genital warts.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs and is spread by vaginal, anal, and oral sex. The tricky part about chlamydia is that 50 to 70% of people may not show symptoms, thus putting them at risk to spread it to other partners. Luckily, this is an STD that is treatable and curable.
Symptoms of chlamydia may include:
- Painful or burning urination
- Pain during sex
- Itching or burning
- Foul-smelling discharge that may be discolored
- Symptoms in men: painful urination; clear, watery discharge
Syphilis is making a comeback. As another STD that is curable with medication, it poses many health threats if left untreated. Unlike other STDs, syphilis has multiple stages. The secondary stage is when most people notice symptoms and seek medical treatment.
Symptoms of syphilis may include:
- Weight loss
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
If syphilis progresses into the late stage without treatment, damage can occur to the heart, brain, and nerves.
Gonorrhea seems very similar to chlamydia in the sense that it is one of the most common STDs, it can produce no symptoms, and it can be treated with medication. If symptoms are present, they are often the same as chlamydia, with a few exceptions. In gonorrhea infections, people may also experience a sore throat and difficulty swallowing as well as discharge or itching around the anus.
Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite. It is common and treatable. Only about 30% of people show symptoms, which can include discharge, irritation, and itching. One distinct fact about trichomoniasis is that, if left untreated, people may be at an increased risk of contracting HIV.
Hepatitis B is a virus that affects the liver and is preventable if vaccinated. If undiagnosed or left untreated, hepatitis B will only cause more damage to your liver, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver failure.
Symptoms of hepatitis B may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Jaundice, dark-colored urine, swelling in the abdomen (specific to liver disease)
If you contract hepatitis B, it can sometimes clear itself. Hepatitis B is spread by sexual contact, childbirth, sharing needles, needle sticks, and sharing razors or toothbrushes.
HIV is a virus that weakens the immune system, making it difficult to fight off infections. The HIV virus is what causes AIDS. People can contract HIV, have no symptoms, and spread the virus unknowingly for a long time. HIV has no cure, but there are medications that slow the viral process down. Without treatment, AIDS will become imminent, and it is fatal.
Symptoms of HIV may include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Night sweats
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Mouth sores
Unprotected sex and needle sharing are the most common ways that HIV is spread.
Refer to Hello Divorce’s Dating after Divorce Worksheet for more helpful information.
FAQ about STDs
How can I protect myself from STDs?
Be sure to get tested often. Talk with potential partners about their status, the last time they were tested, and their results. When you decide it’s time to take it to the next level, remember to use protection. Even if you encounter people who claim to not like the way a condom feels, stay firm in what will keep you protected.
How do I tell a new partner about my chronic STD?
Honesty is always the best policy. It may not need to be a topic of conversation on the first date, but once they have gotten a chance to get to know you and before you progress to that stage, it’s time to be honest. It may be a scary and awkward conversation, but along with telling them, it’s also important to provide them with education so they know that it’s possible to keep them safe and protected.
How do I discuss my fears with a new partner?
Trust your gut. When you feel the time is right to share your feelings with your partner, allow yourself the grace to do so.