Women, STDs, and the Emotional Rollercoaster

Being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is not just of medical concern. It can also have a tremendous impact on a woman's emotional wellbeing. The various emotions a woman will experience will of course vary depending on the particular individual, and the specific type of STD; however, some common emotions are feelings of self-blame, guilt, anger, despair, depression, shame, a feeling of being misunderstood, and fear. Lets discuss some of these emotions.

Self-Blame, Guilt, & Anger:

Some women may replay over and over again the incident that led to contracting the STD and may blame themselves for the behaviors they chose to engage or not engage in, which may or may not have affected the outcome. At times women may feel guilty, as if they have done something wrong or immoral to have deserved getting an STD. Oftentimes women experience intense anger that they have contracted the STD and this anger may be displaced onto many areas of their lives. They may feel irritated with partners, family, friends, and colleagues, who they may also feel misunderstood by. There can also be anger about any life changes required as a result of the STD, such as having to take medication or having to share their diagnosis with any sexual partners. Frequently, underneath the anger is a great feeling of despair, which tends to emerge after the anger dissipates.

Depression, Being Misunderstood, & Fear:

Women may feel depressed as they come to face the implications of the particular diagnosis. I have encountered women who feel great shame about having contracted an STD and worry about others judging them because of it. There are women who may be concerned that others will make certain assumptions about them because of their diagnosis and that others may not want to be involved in a relationship with them because of it. Additionally, many women (again depending on the particular STD) may experience a lot of fear and anxiety about the health implications of the diagnosis. For example, some women may ruminate over questions such as, "will I become significantly ill, will I become incapacitated, will I die, will this affect my brain in anyway, does this mean I will get cervical cancer?"  

Trauma & Anxiety:

Depending on the person, receiving an STD diagnosis can also be a traumatic experience and particularly so for people who have experienced previous traumas. In such cases, receiving an STD can ignite emotions related to the previous trauma and can create significant anxiety. Women in this situation may be especially sensitive to their health or life being threatened in any way.  It is crucial for any health professional working with women who have contracted an STD to be sensitive to these emotions and to be patient with answering questions.

Control & Empowerment:

Receiving an STD diagnosis can feel like a complete loss of control and it is important to help a woman in this position feel like there are things that she still has a say over. Women in this situation may ask many many questions in an effort to grasp some sense of control, and this is perfectly warranted. It is important for women who live with STDs to engage in actions that will help them feel empowered, safe, and in charge. This can offset some of the feelings of lack of control brought upon by receiving the diagnosis and subsequent " forced" adaptations related to it, such as having to take medications at certain times a day, needing to have certain routine procedures, being obligated to disclose the diagnosis to sexual partners, etc.  

Empathy & Compassion:

When learning to manage life with an STD, it is imperative that women have a compassionate support system. Find that person or group of people who will listen, not judge, and do their best to understand your feelings. Women with STDs struggling with emotions related to receiving the diagnosis, can greatly benefit from joining a support group or speaking to a therapist with experience in this area.