How to Feel Sexy After a Recent STI Diagnosis
Health

How to Feel Sexy After a Recent STI Diagnosis

03/05/2023

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are extremely common. 1 in 5 people have an STI on any given day. These stats mean that you or someone you know someone has had an STI! But thanks to the stigma surrounding sex and STIs, talking about these infections, no matter how common, is still taboo. 


New surveillance data notes that STIs are on the rise in America. While this increase indicates a need for improved testing access and safe sexual health practices, it also means it’s time to start talking. 


Sexual stigma, meaning judgemental social attitudes about having sex specifically for pleasure, out of marriage, or outside of a heteronormative construct, impacts STI disclosure. Stigma is the elephant in the room that can make initiating conversations about sexual health and STI testing and diagnosis difficult with a new or old partner, no matter how much practice you might have had. 


Because of sexual stigma, STIs can also get in the way of how we feel about sex and our bodies. Even though STIs can feel heavy, they don’t have to stunt pleasure. 


Breaking Up With Shame Stories


How, exactly, can STIs impact sex? Sexual stigma can create shame stories about what contracting an STI might mean about us. A shame story is a narrative you tell yourself that makes you feel wrong, devalued, embarrassed, guilty, and, well, shameful. Research from 2010 found that shame, guilt, and embarrassment are part of many people’s experiences seeking STI testing. The same study found that these emotions can negatively impact people’s willingness to inform their status to partners.


Shame stories around STIs can include feeling “dirty,” feeling like something is wrong with you, or you’re defective, and feeling embarrassed, undesirable, or fearing rejection from a future or current partner. 


Getting curious about a shame story can help to take away some of its power. You might start by observing the shame story and asking yourself where you first learned it. It might help to challenge the narrative and normalize that STIs are extremely common, just like the common cold. 


Can’t kick the feelings? An antidote to shame is empathy. Try and cultivate a feeling of compassion for any tough feelings that arise. You might want to disclose your STI to a trusted friend you know will be understanding, or a counselor. 


Disclosure and Safe Sex Plans


While disclosure can be difficult (cough cough, because of stigma), it can also feel like a relief to have the conversation. You’ll want to inform any current partners about an STI diagnosis so they can receive treatment. 


It can be helpful to remember that how a partner responds to disclosure is on them, not you. You don't owe them a full history of your sex life, or a dissection of where you think you might have contracted the STI. Present your diagnosis in a factual way. I.e., I recently received an STI test and tested positive for an STI, and here’s my treatment protocol. 


You’ll also want to create some space between disclosure and sex. The bedroom is likely not the right time to have the conversation. By creating some space, you can logically come up with a plan for safe sexual health, such as using barriers, abstaining until a course of treatment is over, or ensuring a partner receives testing, too. 


When you’re allowed to have sex after a course of treatment can depend on the STI, so make sure to ask this question to your provider. If your STI is treatable but not curable, you’ll want to discuss a game plan that includes either abstaining until you no longer have symptoms or ways to have safer sex. Safer sex can include sex with toys, mutual masturbation, video or phone sex, or the use of latex barriers. Sometimes, STI conversations, albeit an undesired conversation to have, can fuel deeper conversations about intimacy, and creative ways to get it on. 


Tips For Restoring Your Sense of Agency and Sexiness


After an STI diagnosis, you might feel a range of emotions about sex, like shame, fear of rejection, embarrassment, changes in your sex drive, decreased confidence, or a change in feelings about your own sexiness. 


Working through the feelings that your STI brings up can be a helpful place to begin. Be patient with yourself! Remember, while an STI diagnosis might be new, the stigma that likely informs how you might be feeling has come from lifelong teachings. 


Practice good self-care throughout this time. Make sure you’re eating well, finding time for movement, and nurturing yourself in ways that feel good. 


If your confidence has taken a hit after your STI, you might want to start exploring pleasure with 

yourself. It’s important to remember that you don’t need a partner to feel sexy. If you’ve noticed that a recent or prior STI diagnosis is impacting how you feel about your sexuality, it can be helpful to start small. Set aside a few moments for grounding exercises, or nonsexual activities that bring you pleasure. 


Become curious about the ways that make you feel sexy. You might listen to an audio story or read erotica. If a certain material like leather or lace helps you get in touch with your sexuality, put it on. Refocusing on sex and sensuality can help deepen your sex life with yourself. 


The time it takes someone to feel sexy after an STI completely depends on that person. If you haven’t felt sexy after an STI diagnosis, know that this is completely normal. Your sex drive might feel low, and this is common, too. Take the time you need to give yourself any physical and emotional care you might need. You’ll likely know when you’re ready to start exploring sex with partners again.

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