You have an STD. Who's to blame?

by Charlotte Grayson, M.D. Health Professional

I can't count the number of times that a patient was shocked when they were diagnosed with an STD. Many of my patients seem surprised that their sexual partner gave them an STD. Though they won't admit it, they probably assumed their partner was clean based on simple questioning or on poor judgment.

That is a huge mistake.

STDs are spread largely because people don't know that they have them. For example, 2/3 of women and
½ of men with Chlamydia infection DON'T know they're infected and continue to spread it to their sexual partners. The same is true for all other STDs: most people with an STD do NOT know they are infected.

You can't tell if your partner has an STD just by looking at him. You can't tell by his job description, or the size of his bank account. You can't tell by his nice smile, clean cut good looks or great body.

Most of my patients, once diagnosed with an STD, are EXTREMELY concerned about transmitting their STD to their partner and take a much more proactive role in preventing spread of the disease. Unfortunately, it's often too late. They've already infected their partner. Too bad that sort of care isn't taken BEFORE giving the disease to a partner.

Given the numbers of people with STDs, it's dangerous to assume that you or a new sexual partner is not infected. Nationally, over 40 million Americans have genital herpes. That's one in five people. And, if you live in New York City, the infection rate is even higher: 1/4 New Yorkers have genital herpes.

Almost 90% of people infected with genital herpes don't even know they're carrying the disease. Therefore, in most cases, contracting an STD from a new sexual partner is NOT a malicious thoughtful act. It is transmitted out of ignorance or denial.

Doctors do share some of the blame. As a doctor, I always wonder if we should offer and encourage more widespread STD testing to our patients. I know that given the number of tests we use to screen patients and time factors, we often discuss Pap smears, Mammograms and colon cancer screening far more completely than STD screening.

But the majority of the burden to understand your risk of contracting an STD falls on you as a sexually active adult. It's irresponsible to have sex without getting tested before you're intimate with a new partner. In the meantime, at least use a condom every time.

Charlotte Grayson, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Charlotte Grayson, M.D.

Charlotte Grayson, M.D., is an internist in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. She is a 1995 graduate of Boston University School of Medicine. She completed her internal medicine residency in 1998 at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Previously, Dr. Grayson was Senior Medical Editor for a leading healthcare content company. She frequently speaks to the media about health, appearing on Fox News and CNN and contributing to TIME, Real Simple, Women’s Health, and WebMD magazines.