Last Updated on June 4, 2020 by Shuvani Sanyal, MD
It’s STD Awareness Month!
Today’s myth: ‘Once you have an STD, you can’t get it again’ and why that’s so false!
We’re implementing The STI Project’s month-long myth busting series: So True, So False! Yeah, we think we’re as cool as E! Promoting awareness, education, and acceptance doesn’t always have to be super-serious.
Really, though, these myths often perpetuate big problems, because they keep people from getting tested, talking to partners, practicing safer-sex, and all around being conscientious about their sexual health. So, this is kinda serious stuff too!
For our ‘So True, So False’ series, we’re doing the research and debunking some of the common myths we hear all of the time about STDs, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Once You Have an STD, You Can’t Get it Again
A common myth about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is that once you get one, you become immune to that disease and you can’t get it again. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.
The good news is that some STDs – like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis – can be treated and cured. The bad news? You can become reinfected with these diseases if you have unprotected sex with someone who is infected with them. It’s not unusual for the treated partner to be reinfected by an untreated partner.
That is why it’s important to follow these rules for safer testing & treatment:
- Use condoms each and every time you have sex, including oral, vaginal and anal sex.
- Get regular STD testing to screen for STDs, since you can have an STD without knowing it.
- If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis, don’t have sex with your partner until you’ve both completed treatment. Most doctors recommend waiting a week after treatment before having sex again.
- After you complete treatment, consider a test for cure. Testing to confirm you’re cured is essential for syphilis and often recommended for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
- Get tested to look for re-infection three months after treatment, as recommended by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
- Get regular partner STD testing. If you have a reason to want testing, your partner should be tested too. This is especially important when starting a new relationship.
Some STDs – like herpes, HPV (human papillomavirus) and HIV – are chronic, and can be managed, but not cured. You can pass these infections to others during unprotected sex, so it is important to talk to your partner(s) about your STD status, and to use a condom every time you have sex. In some instances, antiviral drug regimens can also help reduce your odds of transmitting (or spreading) the infection to others.
Hepatitis B & C can be both acute (meaning the infection is short-term) or chronic (which means it is long-term and may or may not be curable). Most adults with hepatitis B fight off their infection without medication and do not become chronic carriers. Unfortunately, with hepatitis C, most people become chronically infected. Recently, new, more effective treatments have emerged for both hepatitis B and C, which can often allow both diseases to be managed even when the infection is not cured. People with chronic hepatitis can spread the infection to their partners, so it is important that they inform their sexual partners of their hepatitis status. Unless instructed otherwise by a hepatologist, people with hepatitis should use condoms every time they have sex.
And because there are different strains of all viral STDs, it’s less likely, but still possible to contract a different strain of the viral STD you already have. Each strain reacts to your immune system a little bit differently. Anti-viral meds can help reduce symptoms and the overall risk of contracting additional strains, but they cannot eliminate it. So, even with long-term/chronic infections, it’s possible to become infected with a different strain of the same virus.
To protect your and your partners’ sexual health, make sure you practice safer-sex every time you have intercourse, talk openly and often about your sexual health, get tested for STDs whenever you have a new partner and get STD tested at least once a year. You can also talk to your doctor about effective vaccines for HPV and hepatitis A&B.
Since being treated for an STD does not preclude you from contracting it (or a different strain of the same infection) again, you’ll want to practice safer-sex before and after STD treatment. As the old saying goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’
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Have you heard this before? How did you learn about this myth and what was your opinion before reading this post? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!