Take Charge Over the Emotional Impact of Receiving an STD Diagnosis
The Emotional Devastation is Isolating
It's not often that the emotional devastation of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is discussed or even acknowledged. The secrecy surrounding this kind of diagnosis can make a person feel very alone.
It's an embarrassing event that happens every day, all over the world—turning the lives of adults and young people, male and female, upside down in ways they cannot anticipate.
The emotional and psychological impact creates a loneliness, coupled with hurt and betrayal, which can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anger, worthlessness, and a decrease in self-confidence.
The following poem, called "Defiled," speaks to the devastation of learning your partner, who you thought was faithful, gave you an STD. It was inspired by listening to the experiences of many women, married and single, for whom I provided therapy in my work as a licensed professional counselor. Poetry is often used as a therapeutic tool, assisting clients to articulate the depth of their emotional pain through the use of descriptive words.
"Defiled" - A Poem About Betrayal
Bruised and burned
Cracked to the core
Never to be whole again
A sacred trust broken,
Shattered into many sharp pieces
Piercing my heart, one at a time
Touched in the head and soul
Left alone to feel dirty, stained, and maimed
Over a lapse in judgment
A moment of weakness
An act of betrayal
Forever cursed by a night of passion,
To which I was not even invited.
— JLE, 2006
Acknowledging Your Emotions
Diagnosis and Betrayal: The Double Whammy
If you're in a committed relationship, receiving the diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease carries the force of not one, but two punches: the diagnosis of the disease and the shock of knowing that someone has been unfaithful.
Of course, the situation could be that the devastated person who contracted the disease is the one who was unfaithful.
But for purposes of this article, the poem refers to those partners who were blind-sided by the revelation of a cheating partner, or at the very least, a partner who was a carrier of disease and knowingly failed to share the information.
The "double whammy" effect has the newly diagnosed dealing with this revelation on many levels, as outlined in the table below.
The Emotional Stress of STDs on Relationships and Health
|Emotional/Psychological Effects||Personal and Financial Costs||Uncertainty About the Future|
broken trust, inability to trust partner again
relationship is in crisis; marital discord
being single and alone
feeling unsafe with partner
possible end of relationship; separation or divorce
fears of being unwanted
anger and resentment
upheaval of living situation; moving expenses
withdrawal from friendships and social activities
inability to forgive partner
expenses for individual/couples counseling
abrupt change from a casually free lifestyle
having a serious illness with a social stigma
unexpected medical bills and medication costs
possibility of risks to health
feeling like physically damaged goods
embarrassment and fear of judgment/labeling by healthcare practioners
damage to reproductive system and fertility
decrease in self-esteem
fear of exposure regarding privacy
changes in overall functioning of immune system
loss of sexual confidence and spontaniety
fear of sharing information with family, friends, and potential partners
fears regarding decreased quality of life
feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame
becoming a health statistic
adjustments to taking medications on a long term basis
Emotional and Physical Fatigue are Common Symptoms
After the Diagnosis: Suggestions for Coping and Taking Care of Yourself
After receiving diagnosis and treatment for your STD, the care and support for the emotional and psychological impacts may be lacking. Referrals for support groups are hard to find and even more difficult to attend due to comfort level and privacy issues.
Unless you become proactive and courageous, you may not get the chance to express the fears and emotions that accompany this diagnosis. Emotional support is essential, when you're ready to seek it.
The list of suggestions below take a holistic healing approach to address the emotional and psychological needs, as well as the physical, mental and spiritual needs of the diagnosed person.
This take-charge approach emphasizes the importance of looking at all aspects of one's life in tackling the crisis. It also includes preventative measures to increase the chances of maintaining good health:
Read More From Healthproadvice
- See a doctor for testing as soon as you are aware of physical symptoms which are out of the ordinary; if you are sexually active, make testing a routine even without any obvious symptoms; follow through with treatment and medications; get adequate rest.
- Know your partner well; ask questions about past history, lifestyle, and sexual behaviors that might put your health at risk.
- Increase good nutrition habits to include vitamins, supplements, herbs, and natural remedies to strengthen your immune system and ability to fight disease. (Consult with your doctor, medical professional or nutritionist first.)
- Consider seeing a therapist or attending a hospital-based or treatment center support group to address shame, anger, and loss issues caused by the betrayal and trauma of receiving such a diagnosis.
- Explore how religious beliefs may feed into feelings of guilt, shame, and need for punishment; focus on the healing power of your religion and the support of family, friends, and compassionate healthcare professionals to assist you with resolving spiritual and religious conflicts brought on by the diagnosis.
- If your feelings persist and begin to turn into symptoms of depression, see a doctor for an evaluation; acute trauma or grief reaction can worsen and resemble depression if not addressed immediately by a trained professional.
- Educate yourself about the symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of your particular STD; knowledge is power and will increase you ability to cope, manage your emotional reactions, and take control of your overall health.
The Most Common STDs in the United States
- Genital Herpes
- Genital Warts
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Viral Hepatitis
For information contact: The Centers for Disease Control/National Prevention Information Network
For help call: CDCINFO (National STD Hotline) 1-800-232-4636 or TTY 1-888-232-6348 (English & Spanish)
Facts About STDs in the U.S.
These statistics about STDs in the U.S. come from the Center for Disease Control's National Prevention Information Network.
- 19 million new STD infections occur every year
- Men and women of all backgrounds and socioeconomic status are at risk
- Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 are at higher risk for chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Men who have sex with men are at higher risk for syphilis
- Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe in women than in men; men present with less symptoms than women
- Annual healthcare costs for STDs is estimated at $17 billion
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you still have a good sex life with an STD?
Answer: It depends on two things: First, if you've been treated, counseled on understanding how to recognize symptoms, and if you're engaging in safe sex. Second, if you've sufficiently worked on the anxiety about the STD which affects your comfort level during sex. It can take time to work through these issues before you're ready to return to a good sex life. I wish you well.
Question: I am only seventeen, and got involved with an older man with whom I did not use protection. I am scared daily of an STD diagnosis. How do I cope?
Answer: Sorry, you're going through this, the anxiety can be extremely difficult, taking over every thought about your health. But don't let it consume you daily. Life does go on in spite of our worries. Allow yourself to focus on other things that are just as important. Follow-up with testing and get to know your body well so you can be aware of any changes. Take it a day at a time and don't punish yourself.
Question: How do I move forward with my relationship if we both have been treated for STDs?
Answer: If you're committed to each other, you move forward by being transparent about your health. Communicate any health concerns or changes. Agree to abstain when necessary. Share information about medical appointments and check ups. This will help build trust. Hopefully, the strengths in your relationship will trump the fears and anxiety of STDs.
Question: What triggers an outbreak of STDs?
Answer: Triggers include emotional and physical stress, friction, and supposedly some foods (chocolate, oatmeal). I recommend looking up what foods are considered triggers; foods may be a very individual triggers for some and not all people.
© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on September 13, 2019:
Thank you for saying so, Cynthia. My goal was to help those who are hurting in silence. I appreciate this generous comment.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 12, 2019:
Janis, this is a kind and comprehensive outreach to people going through STDs and people who are curious, anxious, burdened with guilt. Good work!
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on June 01, 2019:
Hi Dana. You speak a lot of truth here. You're so on point about a core issue being risky behaviors. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Glad you liked the poem.
Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on May 31, 2019:
If I were married to this person we would need a lot of counseling to rebuild trust. If it was a relationship with no marriage or, children, I would try very hard to find the strength to walk away.
I think for me the deal breaker would be that my partner was too risky with his behavior. I couldn't trust him after that. A true fact about most cheaters are they're only sorry and embarrassed they got caught.
I understand there's many factors involved and some people who cheat are not necessarily looking for sex but trying to fulfill some emotional need.
I have a childhood friend who contracted an incurable STD from someone she loved. She knew he was a chronic cheater but was too in love to walk away.
Loved the poem.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on April 17, 2019:
I completely understand your feeling as the poem, "Defiled," connotes. It is very difficult not to embrace that feeling of being stained with dirt. Only time and patience with yourself will allow you to eventually learn to live with what has happened and not let it define your entire being. It also helps to put the sadness to words, either by journaling or counseling, in order to release it and heal. I wish you peace, thanks for reading.
Maranomore2926 on April 16, 2019:
I’m feeling dirty and I don’t know how to stop feeling that way. What can I do to not feel so sad?
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on August 15, 2018:
You're welcome Cynthia. I really appreciate your comment. This is exactly why I wrote this article. It is a very sensitive subject that no one willingly wants to talk about, let alone manage the emotions that ensue. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it. I hope it continues to help a lot of readers who are looking for answers and emotional support.
Cynthia on August 14, 2018:
This is a well-written, researched article tackling a complex subject. I know that many will appreciate your skills and caring to take this on and provide answers to individual questions that would likely not make it to a health professional but create much worry. Thank you!
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on August 05, 2018:
It's not uncommon to feel that way, Jessica. Your fear is driven by your second-guessing the choices you made and feeling badly about it. Don't let guilt take over and make you obsess about your health. You don't deserve punishment for bad judgment. Be good to yourself by practicing self-care which includes safer sex practices and getting a physical exam or testing as needed if something doesn't feel right.
When you take care of yourself, anxiety should decrease.
jessica5672 on August 05, 2018:
I am not sure whether or not I have an STI but I am constantly in total fear daily because of not being smart that day.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on March 03, 2018:
Trina I'm glad this article was available to you. I see you're in a lot of pain. I recommend you find a good therapist near you who can support you on your journey to heal.
Trina wills on March 03, 2018:
I am very sad and depressed my x gave me herpes after 28 years and then now it's hit my eyes and I am blind and are daughter and my family think I need to get over it, I can't please help me I am 54 and I think I will be alone no man will won't firstname.lastname@example.org
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on November 28, 2017:
To tell or not to tell is a very personal decision. Giving an opinion on what an individual should do in a complicated and sensitive situation would not be helpful. I recommend that the daughters and mother seek family counseling to help them sort out how to proceed. They may benefit from a few sessions to explore pros and cons of their decisions as they work through the betrayal, anger, and fears about mother's health.
Dj on November 27, 2017:
My friend found she has an std from her ex husband. This would be from 2 years prior. Confirming, perhaps,that he was cheating. She has learned that she has cancerous cells and needs to see an oncologist.
Her daughters are aware and have shut off communication with their dad. Daughters are 20 and 23. Dad has no idea why communication has shut off. Ex-wife is considering not telling him. My wife and I are of differing opinions.
What do you think?
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on August 17, 2017:
You are very welcome, Jennifer. I'm glad to know it was helpful.
Jennifer on August 17, 2017:
You sound like the perfect therapist. Very understanding and very intelligent. A very painful topic. Thank you so much for this article.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 22, 2014:
Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your comments. Thank you for taking the time to visit.
Mark Tulin from Long Beach, California on October 22, 2014:
Great topic to cover and to raise our awareness. Well written and highly informative. Thanks.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 28, 2013:
Thank you very much.
bhavishapatel on October 28, 2013:
the way your poerty elegantly flowed through was a really good idea. as much as i liked reading it you have put a lot of effort
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 21, 2013:
You're very welcome, SamitaJassi, I'm so happy to know this. This is my goal, to educate and validate those who are in need of support. Thank you for coming by.
Samita Sharma from Chandigarh on October 21, 2013:
Before reading it i had no information about STD problem... Thanks dear for giving me such info...................
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 20, 2013:
Thanks, DDE, I appreciate your visit and comments, so many innocent indeed. Very sad.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 20, 2013:
Yes, so true Hezekiah. Thank you for taking the time to read it and for the comments.
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 20, 2013:
Thank you Faith Reaper. Your comments mean a lot, so glad you can appreciate the importance of this hub. Bless you for visiting.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 20, 2013:
STD Diagnosis / The Emotional Impact of Getting an STD you have produced a useful and informative hub, definitely worth a read. The problem is so many innocent people are getting this disease from their partners. A helpful hub for many readers
Hezekiah from Japan on October 20, 2013:
Interesting hub, and to think, most people have STD's without even knowing because there aren't always symptoms e.g. Herpes, but can still be passed on.
Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 19, 2013:
Powerful write here to bring awareness to such issues indeed! Your poetry is dramatic as to one's condition suffering with such and I love that you included it here. I do hope it reaches many. My heart always breaks for those who are married and find out that their very own husbands (unfaithful) bring such STDs back to his wife! How devastating indeed.
Up and more and sharing
God bless, Faith Reaper
Janis Leslie Evans (author) from Washington, DC on October 19, 2013:
Thank you very much, Bill. I hope to get a good response from searchers who really need the validation, support, and the information. I appreciate your comments and visit.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 19, 2013:
Mixing poetry into a clinical discussion is a brilliant touch. The more we can raise awareness about subjects like this the better. Excellent job, Jan...bravo on a well-written piece.