So, Your Young Person Has an STI—Now What?
Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be a scary time for a young person. As a parent, guardian, or champion, you might have a range of emotions finding out a young person you care has an STI—concern, worry, surprise. You may be wondering what you can do to support them through it. Here are a few tips you can use:
First, if your young person tells you that think they may have an infection or that they have been diagnosed with one, it’s a great sign that the lines of communication are open between you. Reassure them of your continued love and support. Your young person may fear you are disappointed in them or ashamed of them because of their STI. Let them know their diagnosis does not change how you feel about them. They will need someone they can talk to without the sting of judgment.
Next, make sure they’re getting the treatment they need. Have they already seen a health care provider? If not, offer to take them. If they want to go alone, talk them through what to expect and help identify whatever medical or insurance documents they might need. Have they received any medication they need? Make sure they get it and take it as directed. Some STIs are easily treated and have no long-lasting effects. Others, like herpes, HPV, and HIV, are infections that stay in someone’s body and have the potential cause problems throughout life.
Although they have received the diagnosis of a physical infection, dealing with the social and psychological stigma of an STI could affect their mental health as well. Their self-esteem or self-image might take a hit. This is especially true for long-term infections. It can help you both know that STIs are very common among young people. The CDC reports data that suggests young people (ages 15-24) have half of all new STI cases. Communicate to them that their diagnosis, nor any statistic, does not define who they are.
Sometimes young people fear the permanent loss of their love life—or sex life—after contracting an STI. That couldn’t be further from the reality of many people who go on to lead happy, fulfilling lives after testing positive for an STI. Reassure your young person that not only are they still valuable and worthy of romantic love but that it’s well within their reach. Talk with them about strategies to reduce their risk of getting another infection and of passing an infection they have on to their partner. Some parents leave condoms in a specific place in the house where they can be taken with no questions asked. You might also talk with a health care provider about medicines they can take to treat their infection that also helps reduce the chance of passing it to their partner.
It may be tempting—for you or your young person—to hope an STI is just a bad dream that will go away if you avoid discussing it. But part of living with an infection is facing it head-on. Though these conversations (like many about sex) may be uncomfortable, they are necessary. Encourage your young person to get informed and stay informed about STIs. Direct them to resources about the signs (or lack thereof) of potential outbreaks, the medication(s) they may need, and how they can take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally. And if you don’t know, don’t feel intimidated—this is a learning opportunity for parents, guardians, and champions, too!