You’ve just found out you’ve been exposed to an STI. What now?

By Emen8, updated 2 years ago in Health / Sexual health

man wears pale blue sweater looks puzzled

It’s the notification nobody wants.

You’ve just found out that you’ve been exposed to an STI. It might be a message or a call from a guy you’ve had sex with, or it could be an anonymous message. However it happens, someone you’ve had intimate relations with is letting you know they’ve tested positive for an STI — which means you may also have picked it up.

So, what happens now?

You probably have a lot of feelings, but don’t worry — believe it or not, this is something to be grateful for. Take a deep breath, follow our step-by-step guide and you’ll sort out your little situation in no time.

1. Don’t panic — but don’t ignore it

An STI exposure isn’t great news, but there’s no reason to panic — taking positive steps towards getting tested is a much better use of your energy! No matter what you’ve been exposed to, there is help at hand.

But definitely don’t ignore it and hope it will go away, either. Many of the most common STIs go unnoticed, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Even if you don’t have symptoms and you’ve been tested recently, it’s worth following up.

2. Respond respectfully and thank him for letting you know

If he’s let you know himself, thank him! It’s hard to be grateful for bad news, but he’s actually looking out for your health. Avoid discussions around either of you ‘giving’ or ‘catching’ an STI – there were two (or maybe more) of you involved, and nobody is to blame.

Try to remember that he’s just been diagnosed with an STI, which is not a lot of fun for him either (and you may well be in this position yourself soon). Some good responses include:

  • Thanks for letting me know. I’ll go and get tested.
  • I’m sorry to hear that, are you ok?
  • I’m glad you told me.
  • It happens, it’s nobody’s fault and I appreciate you telling me.

If you’ve been notified via an anonymous service, obviously a personal response isn’t possible, but bear in mind it’s always better to know than not know!

“… believe it or not, this is something to be grateful for.”

3. Get as much information as you can

Read up on whichever STI(s) you’ve been exposed to. Our Knowledge Hub is a great place for everything you need to know. Check yourself for any symptoms. Remember that no symptoms doesn’t mean no STI — noticeable symptoms aren’t always guaranteed.

Knowing when you might have been exposed is also useful information to take to your doctor, especially for STIs with longer window periods such as syphilis.

4. Make an appointment to get tested

The next call you make should be to your doctor or sexual health service. Many sexual health centres also offer a drop-in service. If you can’t see your regular doctor, use our sexual health service finder to find your closest option.

Emen8 map of sexual health testing services across Australia

When you have your check-up, give your doctor as much information as you can so that they can make the best decisions about testing and treating you. This information should include that you’ve been notified by a partner, when you were last tested, what sort of sex you’ve had, any symptoms, and when you think you were exposed (if you know).

Your doctor may recommend treating you for the STI straight away, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

5. No playtime until you’re in the clear

To avoid spreading STIs to other guys, avoid sex until either your results come back negative or for a week after you finish treatment (if the results were positive).

This means you’re on a strict diet of masturbation for anything from a week to two weeks, depending on the STI and the treatment. Learn to love yourself – or get online for some virtual interaction.

6. If your results come back positive, notify your previous partners

And you’ve come full circle!

If your results come back positive, it’s time to let your previous partners know, just like the person who notified you. This isn’t easy and there are a number of things to consider – how and when you tell a partner can depend on what kind of relationship you have with them.

If you’re not sure what to say, the team at Ending HIV New Zealand have put together a great text generator tool you can copy and paste to send out. Here’s a preview of what you could use:

Ending HIV NZ Tell Me tool for notifying partners about STIs

If you’re struggling to find the courage to notify people yourself, don’t worry – there are other options. Both Let Them Know and The Drama Downunder will let you notify your partners anonymously, either by SMS or email.

While it’s still better to tell them yourself (so they have as much information as possible), doing it anonymously is still better than not telling them at all!

Related reading: How to protect your partners from STIs.