The Scary Thing: "You tested positive for herpes."
What you may think: "I'm marked for life."
Why you can relax a little: Your scarlet letter "A" really stands for "About Average." Though exact numbers are complicated, a significant percent of the population is similarly marked with one or both types of herpes (HSV 1, usually oral, or HSV 2, usually genital). For example, in the U.S., about one in six people ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes (about 50 million), and as many as 90 percent do not know it, says the American Sexual Health Association. In the past, herpes had to manifest itself to be diagnosed, rearing its head in the form of an oral or genital blister. Now doctors can administer a simple blood test to see if you've ever been exposed to the herpes simplex virus. This means you can test positive for herpes even if you've never had an outbreak. Doctors are duty-bound to tell you the results, and there's no sugarcoating the news. When patients panic about how they'll break the news to a future partner, Streicher reminds them that the only people who are immune to STDs are those who have never had sex—and data shows that only about 2 percent of people are virgins when they get married.
One more thing: You can decrease the chances of passing on the infection by using condoms and taking an antiviral medication, says Streicher (and, of course, by abstaining when—or if—you experience an outbreak).
The Scary Thing: "Your birth control increases your chance of a blood clot."
What you think: "My birth control might kill me."
Why you can relax a little: Even if your ob-gyn downplays the risks, you may have heard terrifying news accounts of young women on hormonal birth control dropping dead from blood clots. It's true that any hormonal contraception that contains estrogen (and especially those with a high concentration of estrogen, the synthetic progestin called drospirenone, or both) increases your risk of a blood clot (technically: a venous thromboembolism), which can break off, travel to other parts of the body and potentially cause lethal complications. But your risks of developing one are higher during and right after pregnancy—the very thing you're taking the pill to prevent. To put it in perspective: The likelihood of a blood clot while taking birth control pills is 3 to 9 for every 10,000 women, says Streicher. During pregnancy, that increases to 5 to 20 for every 10,000 women; immediately postpartum, it's 40 to 65 for every 10,000 women. In all cases, surges in estrogen are partly to blame; genetic predisposition, smoking and obesity are other major risk factors.
One more thing: For women who have a family history of clotting (or who are simply skittish), Streicher recommends a progestin-only pill or an IUD (which also only contains progestin).
Next: "Wait, I have two what?!?!"