STDs Aren't Always a Sign of Infidelity

Divorced man taking off wedding ring
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"My wife has herpes."

"My husband just came down with genital warts"

"My girlfriend of 5 years just told me she has HIV"

... Does this mean I've been cheated on?

It's always stressful to find out that you have a sexually transmitted disease. However, finding out that you have an STD when you're married or in a long-term committed relationship can be particularly devastating. You don't only have to deal with the diagnosis.

You have to face the reality that your partner could be having an affair. You may start panicking about the consequences of infidelity.   However, an STD diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean your spouse or partner has strayed.

You have to ask yourself if you've been reliable about your STD screening and talking to your partner about testing. If not, it can be difficult to know who infected you with an STD or when. It can be unclear even for when you yourself have undergone regular STD screening. If you were infected while having sex with a partner who had not been tested in years,  you don't know when they were infected. There is always the possibility that they were infected asymptomatically a long time before you got together - and just didn't know it. Even when you are having sex with someone who is infected with an STD, you won't necessarily get infected the first time you sleep together.

Particularly if you intermittently practice safe sex, infection could take months or even years.

This issue often comes up when a person has a first herpes outbreak years into a marriage. Their first assumption is usually that they have a cheating spouse. That may be true. It's also possible that they had been infected for years but didn't realize it.

Sometimes people don't know they're infected until something changes in their body that causes them to have their first noticeable symptoms. Similar things may happen when a married woman is diagnosed with pelvic inflammatory disease. Such women often think that their husbands must have gotten whatever disease caused it from "the other woman." However, unless she was properly screened, it's possible that she had been carrying around an infection from before they even met.

So what should you do if you find out if you have an std while you're in a long-term relationship with a committed partner? The first, and most important, thing is to ask your partner to get tested. That way  both of you can find treatment. Then, if your partner is also infected with the same STD, and therefore a possible source, you need to sit down and talk. The truth is that, unless both of you were tested before you had sex, it may be difficult to know who was infected first. It may be impossible to determine when that infection happened.

Although most of the time the presence of symptoms points to a relatively recent infection, there are sometimes exceptions. What should you do if your partner insists that they weren't having an affair and that there was no other woman or man? You have to use your heart and your instincts to decide how you want to move forward into the future.

Remember, though, there are ways to protect yourself if you want to stay with your partner but don't completely trust them. Safe sex is always an option. It's not a bad idea in any case. Condoms may not be infallible. Still, using them can give you some peace of mind.

There is sometimes a perception in American culture that condoms are something you "get past" once your relationship progresses far enough. However, there's actually no reason for that to be true. Many married couples use condoms for the life of their marriage. They use them for both contraception and disease protection . They never think about them as something that eventually they'll get to disregard. Unless you make it so, most of the time condom use just isn't that big of a deal.

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