There’s a harmful stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections, which implies that being diagnosed with one is shameful, embarrassing, or “your fault” based on your sexual history. But the truth is anyone can get an STI, whether they’ve had one partner or 50 partners.
In hopes of breaking down these stereotypes, BuzzFeed Health asked people of all ages, genders, and sexualities to tell us what STI(s) they've been diagnosed with and how it has affected their lives.
Here’s what they said:
1. "He was kind of surprised that I wasn't mad at him and that I was just grateful that he let me know."
"I was visiting a different city for a few days and hooked up with a guy from Grindr. We had some amazing sex and went our separate ways. He messaged me four days later saying he had just been diagnosed with chlamydia, to which I responded something along the lines of, 'No big deal, thanks for letting me know!'
He was kind of surprised that I wasn't mad at him and that I was just grateful that he let me know. After all of this, we were both so happy with how the interaction went down that we've stayed great friends. We always look each other up when we're visiting each other's cities and we've even gone on vacation together once."
2. "She assured me that a round of medication would clear it up and that in no way should I feel ashamed or dirty."
"I was a sophomore in college and went out with a guy I met on a dating site, who ended up forcing himself on me in the back of my car. When I confronted him about the symptoms afterward, he got angry and said that he 'should've expected that from me.' I was so ashamed and afraid others would have the same reaction, so I didn't tell anyone.
Two weeks later, as I sat crying in a paper gown over my results that diagnosed me with trichomoniasis, I finally opened up to my doctor. She assured me that a round of medication would clear it up and that in no way should I feel ashamed or dirty. Telling someone, especially someone who had a clear understanding of what was going on with me medically, was a huge relief. And after a round of antibiotics, I was in the clear. Emotionally, the entire situation has taken years to process."
3. "I had pretty amazing celebratory sex with my ex once the crabs cleared up, which was a nice way to end the whole ordeal."
"I found a bump on my penis, so I immediately went to the clinic to get it checked out. They told me it looked like herpes, so they gave me a cream to treat the discomfort and sent me home. I decided to be responsible and call everyone I'd had sex with over the last six months and give them a heads up that they might be exposed, which made for some really awkward conversations.
But the herpes cream didn't help, and after a month the bump turned into a ton of bumps all over my junk and my butt, so I went back to the clinic to see what was up. I got a different doctor this time who immediately identified it as crabs, not herpes. I got the proper treatment this time, washed the hell out of all of my clothes and bedding, and then called all my past partners again to let them know the correct diagnosis. I had pretty amazing celebratory sex with my ex once the crabs cleared up, which was a nice way to end the whole traumatic ordeal."
— 38/Male/Gay/Crabs (pubic lice)
4. "The great news came back that I did not miscarry, but I did have chlamydia."
"During the four years I was with my ex, I found out that he was having a lot of affairs behind my back. When we broke up, I started talking to my old middle school crush who would go on to be the love of my life. As time went on, we tried to have a baby and it took months. We finally got pregnant and one day I started heavily bleeding. I was told I was having a miscarriage, but as they did further testing, great news came back that I did not miscarry, but I did have chlamydia. I had to tell my boyfriend, who was a virgin before me, that I gave him an STI that almost cost us our child."
5. "I have a running prescription for Valtrex as needed for outbreaks and it really helps."
"I had only had one sexual partner, my long-term boyfriend at the time, who was clear of any STIs. I remember waking up with vicious blisters (you can imagine where) that were so painful I couldn't walk. I thought it was a UTI gone wrong. When I went to my OB-GYN, they told me immediately that the blisters looked like herpes.
I cried and cried during the exam where they actually used a special acid to break open the blisters to get the fluid out in order to test it. They called two days later and simply said, 'You tested positive for HSV-2, which is genital herpes. We will call an antiviral in to your pharmacy.' That's all they said. I was 19, terrified, and my boyfriend was VERY confused as to how this happened. I have a running prescription for Valtrex as needed for outbreaks and it really helps. I'm grateful for modern medicine!"
6. "If I hadn't waited, my issues would not have escalated so badly."
"My partner kept complaining that his penis was hurting him and he was having burning pain that led to discharge. He got diagnosed and treated almost right away, but I was stubborn and didn't get myself treatment. We were still having sex and eventually I had pus-like fluid leaking out of my anus, intense itching, and I couldn't control my bowel movements because my anus was prolapsing. I ended up going to get tested and had more than one strain of gonorrhea, so I had to get multiple shots, antibiotics, and have my gastroenterologist place my colon back inside of my body. If I hadn't waited, my issues would not have escalated so badly."
7. "My husband swore that he had been faithful and this was from before we were together."
"Forget the stereotype of catching an STI due to having sex with too many partners, I caught mine with the first guy I ever had sex with. We married a few months later and I didn't realize I had an STI until my first Pap smear, about a year later. Imagine my surprise when I got that phone call. My husband swore that he had been faithful and this was from before we were together. He said he caught this before and thought the treatment worked, but that he had never gone back to get checked again. I felt shame while I was getting treated. I felt that it was somehow my fault. We ended up divorcing a few months later, for other reasons. It did teach me a lesson, that anyone can catch an STI, so be safe."
8. "Telling him about my infection was definitely one of hardest conversations I've ever had."
"I was always one of those people who wasn't afraid to ask when someone had been tested last and never really slept with people I didn't know. So to find out from my doctor that I had HSV-2 was shocking. HSV is spread by skin-to-skin contact and a condom is often not sufficient protection. After finding out I have HSV, I haven't been comfortable having sex with anyone. I don't want to be the reason someone gets an STI.
I recently met a guy that I really like and it seems like we could be heading towards dating soon. Telling him about my infection was definitely one of hardest conversations I've ever had. For me, I will always want to keep him safe, but I accept that may not always be possible. If we start dating, I want him to be able to make that choice for himself."
9. "I feel that I got this from having unprotected sex with another girl, which at the time didn't seem risky."
"Neither of us could get pregnant since we're both girls, and I figured she didn't have HIV or AIDS. But now I know there are WAY more risks than that. HPV can lead to cervical cancer, and I had to have a procedure (LEEP) to have cervical abnormal cells removed. No one ever educated me about HPV and I still have so many questions about it, but I don't know where to get the answers."
10. "Everything was okay until my dad found out, because he was still on my online account with my doctor, since I was a minor."
"I had just turned 18, and after a few weeks of hanging out with this guy, we decided to have sex, unprotected, for the first time. Two weeks later, he messaged me telling me he found out he has chlamydia and that I should get tested, which would be easy, but not when you're still living with your parents and don't want them to know. So I came up with some excuse about my birth control so I could see my doctor. The doctor gave me tests, diagnosed me, and gave me some antibiotics.
Everything was okay until my dad found out because he was still on my online account with my doctor, because I was a minor. We never talked, but he did send me an email that said to make sure my partner and I got tested and included a link to the WebMD site about chlamydia. It was super embarrassing and took me a while to not be ashamed, but as I've gotten older I've talked to friends and realized that it's more common than I thought. It's just a part of the past now."
11. "Most of the time it clears up on its own, but for me that wasn't the case."
"I found out I had HPV after getting an abnormal result on my Pap smear, then found out I had moderate to severe dysplasia (precancerous cells on my cervix) after getting a biopsy. I had a normal Pap only one year prior and was utterly baffled at the progression.
I've only had three sexual partners in my life, I've gotten the vaccine, I'm healthy, I'm young, and I exercise daily. More importantly, I had no symptoms. I told my boyfriend and he was a bit worried, but there are no [recommended] tests for HPV in men. I don't know who I got it from, or when, as this particular disease can lay dormant for years. Most of the time it clears up on its own, but for me that wasn't the case. I'm having surgery next week to remove the bad cells, and hopefully they'll be gone for good. Ladies, know how important it is to have regular Pap smear tests."
12. "I shouldn't have to walk around with a scarlet letter because of it."
"I was first diagnosed in my early 20s, after dating my now long-term boyfriend. I was not happy at all because obviously who wants that diagnosis, especially knowing the strain I had was high-risk for cervical cancer. Thankfully, the amount of high-risk cells was so low we did nothing more than keep an eye on it for two years or so, until it was no longer showing up on my Pap smears. Fast forward a few years later, I get a phone call after a routine Pap and it was back. I was devastated. It's a constant worry and root of anxiety for me. I just wish people could understand I contracted a virus that could possibly cause cancer one day and that's scary enough in itself. I shouldn't have to walk around with a scarlet letter because of it."
13. "A few months after the assault happened, the current guy I was seeing told me I gave him some form of STI, but I didn't have any symptoms so I had no idea."
"I had been messing around with a coworker for a few months, and I was sexually assaulted towards the beginning of the relationship. I was ashamed of what happened so I didn't tell anyone about it and tried to push it out of my mind. A few months after the assault happened, the current guy I was seeing told me I gave him some form of STI, but I didn't have any symptoms so I had no idea. He yelled at me, called me stupid, and even kindly informed me that if it had been HIV he would have 'murdered me.' That night I drove to Miami and attempted to kill myself. Luckily I didn't go through with it and was able to be cured from the STIs I had and have moved on from that point in my life."
14. "My entire body was shaking and I couldn't look him in the eye as I told him."
"I had just returned from living in Amman, Jordan, where I had a fling with a guy. A few weeks after I returned I noticed these very painful white bumps on my genitals. I went to my gynecologist and was diagnosed almost immediately with HSV-2. I was diagnosed the day before my boyfriend came to visit (who had been waiting for me to get home from overseas). We hadn't seen each other in over a year at this point. We were sitting in my parents basement, he knew I was being distant and just wanted me to tell him what was going on.
My entire body was shaking and I couldn't look him in the eye as I told him. His response was that we would figure it out and he wasn't running away. It was very difficult in the beginning. I was not in a good head space and felt gross and ashamed. I was diagnosed four years ago, he is still STI-free, and we are getting married next month."
15. "I had been patiently awaiting the results of my test just so my new girlfriend and I could get the ball rolling, physically."
"I was at work, teaching a math class, when I got a call saying that I had contracted syphilis. I had been patiently awaiting the results of my test just so my new girlfriend and I could get the ball rolling, physically. The nurse said I needed to come get a shot, so I left work as soon as the school day was over and got two massive shots. I told my girlfriend what happened and she was actually really cool about it. She was just glad I was honest in the end."
16. "I was dealing with the news of having herpes, while dealing with the pain from the sexual assault."
"Finding out I was diagnosed with genital herpes was devastating. I contracted it after being drugged and sexually assaulted by three guys, so I was dealing with the news of having herpes, while dealing with the pain from the sexual assault. I knew something was wrong down there about four days after, but was scared to seek medical treatment due to fear.
Due to unbearable pain, I finally went to the doctor who told me that it looked like herpes but they were going to do a culture to verify. Getting that diagnoses was one of the lowest points in my life. I was upset, scared, mad, depressed, etc. I even thought about suicide. I spent hours on the Internet and ordered multiple books online so that I could gain as much knowledge as possible. It took me years to realize that just because I have herpes, that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with me."
17. "Every year I have to have an anal Pap smear to check for abnormal cells."
"I was diagnosed by my dermatologist who referred me to a colon/rectal specialist. I got extremely lucky with the doctor that I chose; she is absolutely amazing. Not only can anal warts be on the outside, but there is a couple of inches inside the anus where they can grow as well, and these can cause anal cancer. While unlikely to progress that far, the biopsy of mine came back pre-cancerous.
So every year I have to have an anal Pap smear to check for abnormal cells. So far, every one I've gotten has come back with some type of abnormal cell and every time I have to be put under general anesthesia and have them surgically removed. I've only had to tell a couple of partners, and each time they've taken it extremely well. I've been with my boyfriend now for over a year and it's just something that I have to monitor and take care of."
—31/Male/Gay/HPV with anal warts
18. "His ex-girlfriend called to let me know that he had given her herpes and that I needed to get tested."
"I was 20, fresh out of a three-year-relationship, and had rushed into another knowing it wasn't healthy for me. I asked him before we had sex if he had been tested recently and he lied and said he had. Long story short, I found out a few weeks later that the 'chaffing' I was having wasn't chaffing at all. His ex-girlfriend called to let me know that he had given her herpes and that I needed to get tested. I was mortified! I went to my doctor and, honestly, I wish I had gone to somewhere like Planned Parenthood. My doctor was very condescending and gave me my test results over the phone.
Once I knew my status, I left the relationship and worked on myself. I told my parents and siblings and none of them were upset or thought less of me. Had I not been tested when I was, I probably wouldn't even know I had an STI because my initial outbreak was the only one I've ever had. I still have my days where I get down about it, but I never let it keep me down."
19. "Even though it had been out of my control, it still felt like my fault."
"I'd contracted the STI as a result of a sexual assault and was in a new relationship at the time. I felt fear and shame. I felt absolutely disgusting, and so angry at myself because I KNEW how to practice safe sex, and even though it had been out of my control, it still felt like my fault. I hadn't slept with my new boyfriend and didn't until I knew I was clear of infection. The treatment was quick and easy (just four antibiotic pills) and the nurse who saw me was very supportive and understanding, which made everything seem a lot easier. I told my parents, who were equally understanding and sympathetic, and I managed to contact my attacker to let him know what he had, which was a cathartic thing for me to do. I felt satisfaction in knowing he was in the position I'd been in a few weeks prior."
20. "I almost don't want to try and date again because I'm worried I won't be accepted with this permanent condition."
"I was very sick for a few weeks and it got to the point where I was so dizzy that I couldn't drive, so I finally went to the hospital. They told me it looked like I had herpes, which put a wedge between me and the girl I was with even though she had brought it into the relationship. I'm currently single now and almost don't want to try and date again because I'm worried I won't be accepted with this permanent condition. I do try to find humor in the situation though and stay focused on work and being a father."
FYI: The first time someone has an outbreak of genital herpes, they may experience flu-like symptoms, according to the CDC.
21. "I called my 'friends with benefits' and told him. He said his girlfriend (who I had no idea about) just got it too."
"At first I thought it was a weird yeast infection, but it was so incredibly painful that I began to get worried and decided to go to Planned Parenthood. When the nurse saw the outbreak she knew it was herpes and I just sobbed for two hours. I called my 'friends with benefits' and told him. He said his girlfriend (who I had no idea about) just got it too. Ever since, it's been hard to tell new partners. I've been told many times to straight up leave their houses. But herpes is NOT a big deal and the 'herpblr' community on Tumblr has helped me a lot with gaining back my confidence."
—24/Female/Bisexual/Genital Herpes (140)
22. "I got it from my now-husband, who has HSV-1 cold sores and transferred them to me when he went down on me."
"I got it from my now-husband, who has HSV-1 cold sores and transferred them to me when he went down on me shortly after we started dating. Apparently, I had never been exposed to any herpes virus before because I had a horrific outbreak of open, painful, oozing sores all over my mouth and my genitals. I was out of work for a week, couldn't eat anything but applesauce, and I could barely walk. I had a fever of 104 degrees and was constantly on hydrocodone. To learn that it was 'just cold sores' made me feel like my body was incapable of being normal, like I was inferior for having a severe reaction, and now I'm cursed with this STI for the rest of my life. Luckily my husband was incredibly supportive and we are doing just fine."
23. "I had noticed a discharge (like cottage cheese) and an unpleasant smell that was getting worse."
"I assumed I was having a yeast infection and didn't think it could be anything else. However, my boyfriend was having a physical when his doctor noticed slight inflammation/discharge in his penis, then recommended testing. After testing positive for chlamydia, he informed me, and I had myself tested. Of course I tested positive, and quickly began a round of antibiotics. Thankfully I've been clear ever since!"
24. "The nurse said, 'You have chlamydia, pick up your medication at Walgreens,' and that was that."
"I went in for birth control and got tested as a recommendation. I called for my results and the nurse said 'you have chlamydia, pick up your medication at Walgreens,' and that was that."
25. "After I told my partner, she made me bleach-clean her shower, probably the worst day of my life."
"I felt terrible, stressful, shameful and the only person who made me feel safe for a long time was the woman at Planned Parenthood who diagnosed me. After I told my partner at the time, she made me bleach-clean her shower after I used it, probably the worst day of my life. Needless to say we're no longer together."
26. "My 'FWB' didn't leave me and we've been in a relationship ever since."
"I got diagnosed after one of my yearly checkups. I was honest with my ~friends with benefits~ at the time and told him I had no idea how this happened since I've always used condoms. We used condoms too, but he got tested just in case and it turned out I had given it to him. While I beat myself up about it, my mom tried to constantly remind me that the men who truly cared about dating me for me would be there. She was right, my 'FWB' didn't leave me and we've been in a relationship ever since."
27. "My doctor never made me feel gross and I was reassured that you can even contract HPV if you religiously practice safe sex."
"My doctor was super understanding and overwhelmingly supportive throughout the process. She never made me feel gross and I was reassured that you can even contract HPV if you religiously practice safe sex. It's frustrating because I have to plan a surgery to remove growths almost every year. It's not as bad now because I know what to expect and I can plan for it. It was very hard telling my now fiancé that I struggle with this, but I was honest upfront, and he has been so understanding. It has not negatively impacted our relationship."
28. "It was such a horrible way to find out the truth about our relationship."
"Considering I'd been with the same partner for almost two years, getting diagnosed was my confirmation that he was indeed cheating. This was after my yearly check-up. I was at work when I received the phone call and I just broke down and cried. Treatment was a single dose of antibiotics and easy to fix. But it was such a horrible way to find out the truth about our relationship."
29. "I no longer saw myself as attractive. I thought no one would ever want to be with me again."
"I first started having symptoms spring break of my senior year in college. I had blisters which were incredibly painful. I couldn't walk, sit, or pee. I laid in bed spread eagle, with an ice pack between my legs. I went to my OB-GYN, who suspected herpes. I received a call a few days later saying the test came back negative and rejoiced! However, when I returned back from spring break, I received a call from my doctor. He wanted me to come back in. At the appointment, he told me he didn't believe the test was truly negative, so he had it run again. It came out positive and I was devastated. I remember just walking out to my car and bawling my eyes out.
I no longer saw myself as attractive. I thought no one would ever want to be with me again. How was I ever going to tell my future partners? After the diagnosis, I became extremely depressed. About a month later, before I was set to graduate, I attempted suicide. The worst night of my life. After much therapy, I overcame the negative stigma of STIs. I am in a much better place now."
30. "Growing up, I was never taught about safe sex, STIs, etc. so I was honestly terrified."
"I was shocked when I got the call from my doctor saying I had tested positive for chlamydia. Growing up, I was never taught about safe sex, STIs, etc. so I was honestly terrified. Thankfully, both my husband and my boyfriend were incredibly supportive. My husband and I went in to the clinic immediately the next morning to get counseling, medication, and more tests. Everyone was professional and informative, which I was thankful for. We ended up only needing one quick dose of medication (it tasted disgusting)."
31. "I had noticed a small bump on my husband's penis, but when I asked about it he said he hadn't noticed it before."
"I was pregnant with my second child and during a routine appointment I talked to my doctor about some bumps I felt hadn't been there before. She did a swab and said that I tested positive for HPV and chlamydia. I had noticed a small bump on my husband's penis, but when I asked about it he said he hadn't noticed it before and didn't know how long it'd been there. I thought maybe it was a birthmark or something. I'm sure that I contracted both STIs from him and that he was unaware that he had them."
32. "In retrospect, I am so thankful that all I had to do was pick up a prescription my doctor called in to my pharmacy and take a couple of pills."
"When my doctor called to tell me I tested positive for chlamydia, I cried a lot. The guy who had given it to me had insisted he was tested a month prior to us having sex, and was clear, so I felt comfortable having unprotected sex. I felt so betrayed and dirty and told only told a handful of friends.
But in retrospect, I am so thankful that all I had to do was pick up a prescription my doctor called into my pharmacy and take a couple of pills. Although I feel lucky I was able to cure the STI, I am super anxious now about contracting anything. I start obsessively checking my vagina in a handheld mirror and take note of every itch, discharge, etc."
33. "When I told him, he called me a slut and said I must have given it to him."
"I was 17, still in high school, and it was awful. The doctor called home and told my mom first, who then relayed the information to me. I was horrified and immediately started crying. I had only been with two people, the first was a long-time boyfriend who I recently broke up with and the second was a rebound who I barely knew. I knew it was from the guy I barely knew. When I told him, he called me a slut and said I must have given it to him. It was traumatizing. Luckily my mom was really supportive and we went back to the doctor and all I had to do was take some medication and it was cleared up right away."
34. "I think that the hardest part of having herpes is getting past the social stigma."
"When I found out what my diagnosis was, I felt ashamed and gross. The guy who I had been seeing at the time ended things with me because of it. I thought that no one would ever want to be with me again, and I felt completely alone in the experience. I already suffer from anxiety, so I was having a lot of panic attacks and found it hard to leave my apartment. I was afraid to tell the men I had been with because I was nervous about what they would say. However, they all took it well.
That is when I started opening up to my friends about having herpes and was also was able to tell my sister who has been the most supportive person. I've learned that it's not a big deal and with medication you can control the symptoms. I don't let anyone belittle me for it anymore. I think that the hardest part of having herpes is getting past the social stigma."
35. "Sadly, I went back to her office twice before realizing I shouldn't be paying for a health care professional to make me feel stigmatized."
"At the appointment, the doctor walked in the door, greeted me, looked me in the eye and said, 'we all make stupid choices sometimes, don't we?' She then proceeded to tell me that after she ~checked me for any nasties~ we could talk. Sadly, I went back to her office twice before realizing I shouldn't be paying for a health care professional to make me feel stigmatized and like a piece of shit. I found a new doctor and could not be more grateful for her kindness and understanding."
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.