With immediate access to internet at the tip of our fingers, our generation has become more dependent on the internet to diagnose any symptoms that we think we might have. Most of us have taken a health class (although it has been as far back as high school) that gave a brief outline of STIs (sexual transmitted infections) with pictures. And as if it wasn’t awkward enough to talk about STIs I don’t think teachers effectively facilitated a way to discuss safer sex and STI prevention without completely scaring us.
The pictures that were shown are often the worse cases that probably come through the clinic or doctor office. Not to mention, each person reacts differently to infection, so symptoms vary from person to person and most STIs are asymptomatic meaning that even when it is the case that one has contracted an STI there are no symptoms at all. This is what makes the transmission of STIs so easy. It’s not merely that we are not telling our partners, although sometimes that is the case, but more so it’s the simple fact that we don’t even suspect that anything is wrong.
In one of my sexual health classes we were discussing whether googling pictures helps or hurts people who are trying to figure out if what is going on “down there” is an STI or not. Let me give you an example of how this may not be helpful.
A girl goes into the doctors for a regular visit and everything is going as normal. The nurse practitioner notices that she has a small cut near the opening of her vagina. So the nurse asks her, “did you know that you have a cut near the opening of your vagina” the girl (between 18 to 21) said “yeah, it comes and goes about once a month. Me and my boyfriend call it the ‘cut’.” The nurse replies, “well, I am sure it’s nothing, but let’s go ahead and test it to see what exactly it is.”
Well, long story short the test results come back and it turns out to be herpes. No picture on the internet would have given her a good idea of what it was. After all it wasn’t the traditional cluster of painful blisters that are associated with herpes that pop up in your google search.
The moral of the story is that many of the cases or symptoms of STIs are seen in milder forms with numerous people not even knowing they are infected. With herpes in particular, the first outbreak (called the initial outbreak) is often the worse, after that the lesions may come back each month or not at all depending on the person.
So when something doesn’t feel quite right and you feel the urge to go to the internet and find some pictures to self-diagnose remember that it’s not the most reliable source. Images on the internet can easily be photoshopped or distorted in some way, shape or form. Not to mention, most of the pictures I found don’t show infections on different racial groups. (Try Googling herpes images – there is an absence of photos of Black, Latino, or other minorities. And last time I checked we are disproportionately affected by these types of things (just something to think about).
My advice instead is to get a good definition of what the symptoms might be and then make an appointment at your local clinic or health care department (the names of the facilities are located on this website) and figure out what’s really going on. In the end it might be nothing at all, but in the case that it is something at least you will be able to ask questions and get factual answers as well as the treatment to take care of any symptoms you might be experiencing.
Ok. So we really think that pictures can do more harm than good. But I completely understand the urgency of needing to know what is going on “down there” (or possibly on your month) and wanting to know NOW! Here are some credible websites with good information about symptoms. If you are doing your own search keep in mind that .gov, .org, and .edu sites will most likely be good sources.
And if it just happens to be the case that that isn’t enough, feel free to ask an expert . This site is private and confidential, and our expert will get back to you in 24 hours.
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