STI’s – no one wants to talk about them. The stigma surrounding STI’s is still very prevalent in today’s society as it’s often the punchline to a cheap joke or used as to insult someone who has multiple partners – but the truth of the matter is – ANYONE who is sexually active can get an STI. Even if you wear condoms. Even if everyone you’ve slept with is ‘clean’. The association with being ‘dirty’ and having an STI needs to prevail if we want people to talk about it more and prevent the spread of STI’s as a whole. Being open about these things is a method of prevention also. Talking about your sexual health status, when you last got checked, and if you have got an STI – telling your partners to go and get tested and sort themselves out too. Not talking about STI’s just makes the matter worse. Plus, some STI’s can have major side effects such as infertility (chlamydia) if not treated. The STI Guide: Everything You Need to Know.
What are STI’s?
STI stands for Sexually Transmitted Infection. When speaking of sexual health, Healthline state, “Infections occur when pathogens like viruses, bacteria, or parasites enter your body and start to multiply. How they get into your body depends on the type of pathogen. Some get in through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has an infection; others are transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids, like semen, vaginal secretions, or blood. Infection progresses to disease when these pathogens cause damage to your cells, and signs and symptoms appear.”
STIs are contracted in more ways than you probably realise. Penis-in-vagina and penis-in-anus aren’t the only way – oral, hands, and even dry humping and clothes can transmit STIs. Some are spread through contact with bodily fluids and some through skin-to-skin contact, whether there are visible signs of an infection or not. Anyone who’s sexually active should know what symptoms to watch out for. If you’re worried you have got an STI, go for a check-up at a sexual health clinic as soon as you can.
The Difference Between STI and STD
You may have heard of STD as well as STI which means Sexually Transmitted Disease – the two are often used interchangeably – however, there’s a difference between an infection and a disease. A sexually transmitted disease can come from an infection; when the infection has festered and obvious symptoms have appeared it then becomes a disease.
Therefore, STI is often the correct term to use when referring to most of the medical conditions as oppose to STD. For example: chlamydia and syphilis – the two most common – are asymptomatic. Some STIs never develop into STDs. Take HPV, for example. HPV usually clears up on its own without causing any health problems. In these cases, HPV is an STI. If the infection doesn’t clear on its own, it can cause genital warts or certain cancers. This then makes it a disease.
What to Look Out For
Usually anything different from the norm that involves your bits downstairs can cause a fair reason for concern, but sometimes it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. The only way to find out is to go to a clinic and let them have a look. Signs/symptoms you may have an STI can include the following:
- Bumps, sores, or rashes in or around the genitals, anus, buttocks, or thighs
- Changes in the colour, amount, or smell of vaginal discharge
- Penile discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex
- Painful or burning urination
- Pain during vaginal or anal penetration
- Pelvic pain
- Painful or swollen testicles
- Tingling or itching around the genitals
- Swollen and painful lymph nodes, especially in the groin and neck
- Rectal bleeding
When to Get Tested
Get tested before and after you have unprotected sex. That way you can have peace of mind knowing your sexual health status at the time was all negative. If you’re having unprotected sex with multiple partners I’d advise getting tested every time you change partner. If you’re going to have unprotected sex with someone – try to keep it monogmous. It just makes things less complicated. Other times when you should get tested include:
-Have had sex without a barrier method, like a condom
-Have had or are planning to have sex with a new partner
-Have multiple sexual partners
-Are worried you may have been exposed to an STI
-Share injection drug equipment
But don’t jump straight from the bed to the screening clinic, because getting tested too soon won’t tell you whether you were exposed to an STI from your most recent sexual encounter.
How to Protect Yourself From STI’s
STIs ARE preventable. There are steps you can take to keep yourself and your partner(s) healthy. The main thing any of us know about protecting ourselves against STI’s is to WEAR A CONDOM. However, some STI’s like genital warts, genital herpes, syphilis, scabies and crabs – can still be passed on even if you’re having ‘protected’ sex. Practice abstinence. The surest way to avoid STDs is to not have sex. The best way to not get an STI is to be completely monogamous or to not have sex at all. Condoms reduce your overall risk of getting an STI so even though they aren’t 100% they’re better than nothing at all. USE CONDOMS!
How to Tell Your Partner/s You’ve Given Them an STI
Breathe and repeat after me: It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Whether it’s cleared by a run of antibiotics or hanging around for the long haul – it makes no difference. The clinics in the UK offer to text your partner notifying them to get tested if you would rather that – than to text them yourself – however it’s often better than not to just tell them yourself. These conversations aren’t fun, but they help break the chain of infection.
A talk about testing and status can help prevent the future spread of STIs and lead to earlier detection and treatment, which can help avoid complications. This is especially important with many STIs often being asymptomatic until complications occur, like infertility and certain cancers. Plus, it’s just the moral thing to do. If you’re having sex – protected or not – you’re putting yourself at risk of getting an STI. How to not get an STI? Don’t have sex. Just take preventative measures; look after yourself and your partner and decrease the rate of transmission. As the saying goes – it takes two to tango!
You could get an STI from the first person you have slept with and you could get one from your husband: STIs don’t mean a person’s dirty, and they don’t always mean that someone has cheated. You would be grateful if someone opened up
Common STI’s – Side Effects and Treatments
All of the information below is from the NHS website. I’m going to link the NHS pages to each of the STI’s listed so you can click for further information. If you think you have an STI you should avoid any sort of sex with your partner until you have been tested and/or treated.
Chlamydia: One of the most common STI’s in the UK. Passed on through unprotected sex (without a condom). Most people with chlamydia do not notice any symptoms and do not know they have it. If you do develop symptoms, you may experience: pain when peeing, unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or bottom, in women, pain in the tummy, bleeding after sex and bleeding between periods in men, pain and swelling in the testicles. Chlamydia can usually be treated easily with antibiotics.You may be given some tablets to take all on 1 day, or a longer course of capsules to take for a week. Read more
Gonorrhoea: The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid. The bacteria can infect the entrance to the womb (cervix), the tube that passes urine out of the body (urethra), the rectum and, less commonly, the throat or eyes. Typical symptoms of gonorrhoea include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when peeing and, in women, bleeding between periods. But around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women do not experience any symptoms.Gonorrhoea is easily passed between people through: unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, sharing vibrators or other sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a new condom each time they’re used. Gonorrhoea is usually treated with a single antibiotic injection and a single antibiotic tablet. Read more
Trichomoniasis: Caused by a tiny parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis (TV). Symptoms of trichomoniasis usually develop within a month of infection. But up to half of all people will not develop any symptoms (though they can still pass the infection on to others). The symptoms of trichomoniasis are similar to those of many other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include: abnormal vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour, producing more discharge than normal, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell, soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina – sometimes the inner thighs also become itchy, pain or discomfort when passing urine or having sex in women. Symptoms for men can include: pain when peeing or during ejaculation needing to pee more frequently than usual thin, white discharge from the penis, soreness, swelling and redness around the head of the penis or foreskin. Anyone who’s sexually active can catch it and pass it on. However, trichomoniasis is not thought to be passed on through oral or anal sex. It can be treated with a course of 5-7 days of antibiotics. Read more
HPV and Genital Warts: A common sexually transmitted infection (STI) passed on by vaginal and anal sex, sharing sex toys and, rarely, by oral sex. Many people with the virus do not have symptoms but can still pass it on. After you get the infection, it can take weeks to many months before symptoms appear. You can get genital warts from skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal and anal sex, and sharing sex toys. HPV is the name of a very common group of viruses. They do not cause any problems in most people, but some types can cause genital warts or cancer. HPV affects the skin. There are more than 100 different types.Strains HPV 6 and HPV 11 account for 90% of genital warts. Go to a sexual health clinic if you have: One or more painless growths or lumps around your vagina, penis or anus, itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus, a change to your normal flow of pee (for example, it’s begun to flow sideways) that does not go away, a sexual partner who has genital warts, even if you do not have symptoms. Treatment can include: cream, freezing the warts, cutting them off, burn them off or use a lazer to remove the warts. There’s no cure for genital warts, but it’s possible for your body to fight the virus over time. Read more
Genital Herpes: Passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Treatment from a sexual health clinic can help. Symptoms clear up on their own but can come back. Go to the clinic if you experience: small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around your genitals, anus, thighs or bottom, tingling, burning or itching around your genitals, pain when you pee, – in women- vaginal discharge that’s not usual for you. There’s no cure. Symptoms clear up by themselves, but the blisters can come back (an outbreak or recurrence). Treatment from a sexual health clinic can help. Treatment can include: antiviral medication and creams to soothe the blisters. You can get genital herpes: from skin-to-skin contact with the infected area (including vaginal, anal and oral sex) when there are no visible sores or blisters, if a cold sore touches your genitals, by transferring the infection on fingers from someone else to your genitals, by sharing sex toys with someone who has herpes. You cannot get genital herpes:from objects such as cutlery or cups – the virus dies very quickly when away from your skin. Read more
Pubic Lice: Otherwise known as ‘crabs’ are tiny insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as pubic hair. As well as being found in pubic hair, the lice are also sometimes found in: underarm and leg hair, hair on the chest, abdomen and back, facial hair, such as beards and moustaches, eyelashes and eyebrows (very occasionally). Pubic lice are spread through close bodily contact, most commonly sexual contact. Symptoms are the same for men and women, and include: itching in the affected areas, especially at night, inflammation and irritation caused by scratching, black powder in your underwear, blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (caused by lice bites), Itching is the most common symptom of pubic lice and is an allergic reaction to their saliva. The itching is usually worse at night because that’s when the lice are most active. Using condoms and other methods of barrier contraception doesn’t protect you against pubic lice – but shaving will! Pubic lice can be treated at home with insecticide cream, lotion or shampoo. Read more
Scabies: The symptoms of scabies are: intense itching, especially at night, a raised rash or spots. Tiny mites lay eggs in the skin, leaving lines with a dot at one end. The scabies rash usually spreads across the whole body, apart from the head. Scabies is not usually a serious condition, but it does need to be treated. A pharmacist will recommend a cream or lotion that you apply over your whole body. It’s important to read the instructions carefully. Scabies is very infectious, but it can take up to 8 weeks for the rash to appear. Scabies are passed from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. Therefore, it’s not always caught via sex – it can be passed on from touching someone – anything skin-on-skin. Read more
Syphilis: It’s important to get tested and treated as soon as possible if you think you might have syphilis, as it can cause serious problems if it’s left untreated. It can usually be cured with a short course of antibiotics. The symptoms of syphilis are not always obvious and may eventually disappear, but you’ll usually remain infected unless you get treated. Symptoms can include: small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth, a blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, small skin growths (similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva in women or around the bottom (anus) in both men and women, white patches in the mouth, tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature (fever) and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits. If it’s left untreated for years, syphilis can spread to the brain or other parts of the body and cause serious long-term problems. Syphilis is mainly spread through close contact with an infected sore. This usually happens during vaginal, anal or oral sex, or by sharing sex toys with someone who’s infected. Anyone who’s sexually active is potentially at risk. Syphilis is usually treated with either: an injection of antibiotics into your buttocks – most people will only need 1 dose, although 3 injections given at weekly intervals may be recommended if you have had syphilis for a long time. Or a course of antibiotics tablets if you cannot have the injection – this will usually last 2 or 4 weeks, depending on how long you have had syphilis. Read more
HIV: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that damages the cells in your immune system and weakens your ability to fight everyday infections and disease. AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus. While AIDS cannot be transmitted from one person to another, the HIV virus can. There’s currently no cure for HIV, but there are very effective drug treatments that enable most people with the virus to live a long and healthy life. With an early diagnosis and effective treatments, most people with HIV will not develop any AIDS-related illnesses and will live a near-normal lifespan. HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person. This includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk. It’s a fragile virus and does not survive outside the body for long. HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat, urine or saliva. The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is through having anal or vaginal sex without a condom. Other ways of getting HIV include: sharing needles, syringes or other injecting equipment. Antiretroviral medicines are used to treat HIV. They work by stopping the virus replicating in the body, allowing the immune system to repair itself and preventing further damage. These come in the form of tablets, which need to be taken every day. As long as a HIV+ person takes their medication every day it makes the virus near undetectable when coming to transmission. However; anyone who has sex without a condom or shares needles is at risk of HIV infection. Read more