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STDs. We’re going there.

You know that feeling of googling your weird mole and having WebMD tell you you’ve got two weeks to live? Now take that panic, multiply it by 80, and throw in a little social stigma for good measure.

That’s the feeling of thinking you’ve got an STD.

Around 75% of sexually active Canadians will contract HPV at some point in their lives. The highest rates of STDs are in college age students, yet sexually transmitted infections are still one of the most taboo topics in our society. Just take a deep breath, and reassure yourself that yes, you can still have sex when this is done.

“My, uh… friend thinks they might have an STD.”

Let’s just take a beat and figure out what this actually is. An STD? Allergies? A defective bottle of Tide Clean & Fresh? Before you jump to conclusions, take a look at some common symptoms.

Classic STDs
Painful urination, inflammation, and unusual discharge are symptoms of both chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common STDs in Canada. However, many STDs exhibit different symptoms in different people, so check out this trusty guide to common STDs.

False Alarms
While they’re definitely the Big Bad of intimate issues, STDs aren’t the only thing that can go wrong. If you’re experiencing painful urination but no other symptoms of STDs, you may have a urinary tract infection. Allergies to certain foods and even laundry detergents can cause itching as well, so check out your other lifestyle factors before you assume the worst.

We’ve also found this pretty comprehensive list of STDs (and how they are transmitted), as well as this Uncovering STDs tool that your friend might want to check out.

Remember, while the idea that you might have an STD can be scary, it’s not necessarily a reason to panic. Many can be cured with a quick dose of antibiotics, and you’ll be back on your A game in no time.

“So, yeah. My  friend definitely has an STD. What now?”

Okay, so you can’t chalk it up to laundry detergent—it might be time to visit a clinic. Luckily, you’ve got a lot of options.

Finding a Clinic
You can book a visit with your family doctor or drop by your local walk in clinic. The perks of walk-in clinics are that they can usually accommodate you within a few days, so you can get things cleared up quickly and easily.

Most schools also have on-campus medical facilities that offer affordable testing for students. In a pinch, check out Options for Sexual Health. They’ve got you covered for identifying your symptoms, and have a handy clinic finder to locate your nearby screening options.

Treatment
The good thing is, many common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can be easily cured. Stick to your medication and avoid sex for the duration of the treatment, and you’ll be good to go in a few weeks.

“Do I— I mean, does my friend have to tell their partners?”

Yes. And we’re not going to lie to you—it’s not a fun conversation to have.

You’re going to have to talk to your previous partners to determine how the STD got passed along.

As hard as it can be, try not to jump straight to blame. A lot of people can be carriers without showing any symptoms (they have an STI not an STD). Your previous partners may not even know they have an STI, and it’s up to them to get checked out and keep their future partners safe.

No one wants to chat with their ex—let alone about unpleasant sexual diseases, but it’s the right thing to do.

If you’re in a relationship or having regular sex, you’re also going to have to talk to your current partners. Let them know what’s going on so they can get a check up as well. Hopefully they haven’t contracted anything, but you’re going to be riding the chastity train for a bit just to be safe.

Now that you’ve had those two conversations, the hardest part is over. Check in with your doctor once you’ve completed treatment and go get ‘em tiger.

“How do I make sure I don’t get an STD?”

So you’ve made it this far, and you’ve got that STD under control. Either that, or you’re reading this exclusively because you’re mad paranoid. So let’s talk about how to keep everyone fresh, clean, and frisky.

Safe Sex 101
There are a lot of options for keeping yourself and your partners safe from STDs. Okay yeah, the best method is abstinence, but since you’re reading this, it’s probably not your cup of tea. Monogamy also helps lessen your risk, but the most important points are protection and communication. Whether you’re with one partner or many, keep an open line of dialogue about sexual health and habits. As long as you’re careful and honest, you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

Condoms help reduce risk of infection. And they give them out for free at your college clinic.

Neat Medical Things
Those STDs can be sneaky – okay, maybe not Pink Panther sneaky, but they’re not always as obvious as you might think. Many infections don’t show any symptoms, so it’s important to get regular testing so you can stay up to date on your sexual health.

Another prevention method is the HPV vaccine. It can help prevent most strains of the virus, and protects you from nasty aftereffects like risks associated with cervical cancer. Check with your doctor to see if you were vaccinated as a kid, or look into the late bloomer version that’s recommended up to age 26.

Last but not least, the best thing you can do to help prevent the spread of STDs is to start the conversation. It’s awkward, uncomfortable… and incredibly brave. Talk to your partners, even your best friends. As much as it can sound like a cheesy PSA, it really is up to you to confront the stigma around sexual health. And hey, if you can find a way to make STD prevention sexy, let us know.

(Now there’s a pickup line I want to hear.)

Mika Deneige

Mika Deneige

Mika is a recent grad from Vancouver Film School. She now works as a writer and actress in Vancouver, and is most likely drinking coffee somewhere in English Bay right now.