Being unsure about STIs is nothing to be embarrassed about – loads of other people have the same questions you do. Ignorance is not bliss friends. It’s this fear of getting the lowdown that gets a person in trouble in the first place! Here, we’ve put together the 8 most frequently asked questions (and answers) about STIs to help you keep your sex life fun, exciting and safe.
1. What are STIs?
Common STIs (which means sexually-transmitted infections) include: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, trichomoniasis, HPV, syphilis, and hepatitis A, B and C.
They’re more common than you think. An STI like HPV (human papillomavirus virus) is common in an estimated half of the sexually active population (eish!) and if left untreated can lead to cervical cancer in women and some forms of penile cancer in men. The good news? It’s easily spotted with a regular pap smear.
2. Who is at risk of getting an STI?
Anyone who has unprotected sex can contract an STI. You got that? Anyone. Whether you’re male or female, young or old, gay or straight, rich or poor. STIs don’t discriminate, which means that anyone who has vaginal, anal or oral sex without condoms and/or dental dams can contract them.
3. How can I catch an STI?
STIs are caused by bacteria and viruses that are found in vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculation, semen, breast milk and blood. They are passed from person to person during unprotected sex or genital contact. So bumping uglies (even without penetration) can lead to infection. Use a barrier method (like a male or female condom) every time you get frisky.
There’s other means too which include direct contact with infected blood, needle-stick injuries or from mother to child during birth or breastfeeding.
The most common areas on the body that are affected are the genitals, anal area, mouth and throat. Mmmhmmm. We said mouth and throat. So if you’re going down on someone, wrap it up- use a condom or dental dam to protect yourself.
4. How do I know if I have one?
Alright, first things first: you might not. Some STIs show no symptoms at all (some slumber away in your system for years on end, and some never rear their ugly heads), so it’s important to get screened regularly.
Some STIs will show noticeable symptoms. You should get tested ASAP if you have:
- Unusual genital and/or anal discharge
- Genital sores, growths or lumps
- Pain when passing urine
- Painful sex or bleeding after sex (when it’s not your first time)
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Genital pain
- Irregular bleeding in between periods
5. How are STIs treated?
Many common STIs can be effectively treated with a course of antibiotics, but in the case of recurring STIs, ongoing treatment may be required.
Others such as HPV and genital warts may require a referral to a specialist. Visit a trusted healthcare provider to ask questions and get diagnosed so that you can get started on the treatment.
6. How will I know it’s gone?
STI symptoms may come and go, but this doesn’t mean that the infection has been wiped out. Watch carefully for returning symptoms and always attend any follow up appointments your nurse or doctor scheduled.
Once you have contracted one STI, you are more vulnerable to others, so be on the safe side and get tested regularly (it’s really not scary we promise… see #7).
7. How do you test for STIs?
Depending on what symptoms you have and what your nurse or doctor is screening you for, an STI can be a simple blood test (come on, you can handle it), a urine analysis (ready, aim….pee in a cup!) or a swab or smear, which removes a few cells from the affected area (a pap smear for the ladies, and a swipe of any discharge from the penis for you gents). Tests take just minutes and you’ll experience little, if any, discomfort. You can get tested for STIs and HIV at any Marie Stopes centre in South Africa, at your doctor’s office (call ahead to ensure they provide the service) or your local public health clinic. Results for certain STIs can be done while you wait while others will require your sample be sent to the lab for analysis. If so you’ll be contacted when it’s time for your results. The nurse or doctor will interpret them for you.
8. What happened to the “D”?
You might remember that STIs used to be called STDs (as in sexually-transmitted diseases). This was a misnomer since most are simple infections and not diseases. Still unsafe sex does put you at risk of serious health risks so ensure you protect yourself. Along with the unshakeable Heps (Hepitiatis A,B, and C) unprotected sex exposes you to HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). People who have the virus are HIV positive and capable of passing the virus on to their sexual partners. HIV weakens the immune system, which affects the body’s ability to fight common illnesses and to stay strong and healthy. It can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) for which there is no cure. All in all it’s not worth the risk. Use a condom (male or female) each time you have sex.
Still have unanswered questions?
If we’ve missed something or you have questions about anything that we haven’t covered, get in touch with us. Remember that Marie Stopes offers confidential STI testing and counselling, as well as unplanned pregnancy consultation, male circumcision and a range of other sexual health services.