STIs (sexually transmitted infections, previously known as STDs) are a taboo subject, but 1 in 5 people in the US have an STI, so let’s talk about it.
What are STIs?
An STI is a virus, bacteria or parasite that is typically spread by sexual contact. Some of these infections can also be spread by sharing bodily fluids in another way (blood, needles or childbirth).
Some examples are chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis, HIV, HPV and herpes.
They can make themselves known by:
- Sores or bumps around the mouth or genitals
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, headaches, body aches, swollen lymph nodes)
- Pain during sex (more common in females)
- Discharge from the penis or vaginal discharge that may look or smell strange
- Burning or pain while peeing
- Vaginal bleeding when not on your period
Everybody reacts differently:
- Males are less likely to show symptoms than females
- Both males and females may not show symptoms right away, they could appear weeks or months after the STI enters the body
- Some people don’t show symptoms AT ALL
If you have any of these symptoms, go to your health care provider as soon as suspicions arise. They may do testing like peeing in a cup, getting the affected area swabbed, and possibly a blood draw. Once the tests are completed, treatment can start.
Can I be treated?
A bacterial STI (gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia) and parasitic STIs (trichomoniasis) can be treated with a full course of antibiotics.
Unfortunately, some viral STIs (like herpes or HIV) will live in your body forever. However, the virus can often be suppressed with an antiviral medication, lessening symptoms, and lowering the risk of spread.
Have the conversation
- If positive for an STI, contact previous partners to get tested as well. It may be embarrassing or daunting, but take the responsible steps so they can get treated appropriately if needed.
- Before engaging in sexual activities have the STI conversation. Sometimes things happen fast and in the heat of the moment, and STIs are not exactly what the brain is focused on… The more we have these conversations, the less awkward they are.
Some phrases to use: “When were you last tested for STIs,” “I want us to be safe, let’s go get tested together,” “Are you having unprotected sex with other people?”
How to Prevent an STI
The only way to be 100% safe from an STI is to never have sex. Realistic? No. Luckily there are measures you can take.
Other protection options:
- Protective barriers
- Dental dams, a physical barrier used for oral sex made specifically to protect from STIs spread by bodily fluids
- *Herpes and HPV are spread by skin to skin contact- NOT bodily fluids, so condoms and dental dams are not 100% effective!*
- PrEP (Preexposure prophylaxis) medication can lessen the risk of contracting HIV
- NEVER share needles used on the body
Even if you don't have any symptoms, but you have sex (of ANY kind!! Oral, penetrative, skin to skin contact, you get the picture…) with a new partner, multiple partners or with someone with a known STI, go get tested.
If STIs go unmanaged they can cause some pretty serious problems, like cervical or liver cancer, fertility issues, and in some cases death.
To protect your body and those you share it with, make an appointment at NH+C with your primary care provider or OBGYN to get screened for STIs.