According to the CDC, by the age of 25, one in every two Americans will have contracted a STI/STD. The most recent data shows 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis alone in 2021.
With cases so high in number, you may be wondering if you may be at risk for contracting an STI/STD. The answer is simple: if you are sexually active, yes, you are at risk. So, what exactly are STI/STDs, how can you reduce your chance of contracting one, and where can you get tested? What steps will you need to take should you happen to test positive for an STI/STD?
First, let’s clarify the terminology. You may have noticed that there are two different abbreviations being used: STI (“sexually transmitted infection”) and STD (“sexually transmitted disease”). These two abbreviations are often used interchangeably.
WHAT IS AN STI?
An STI is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites that is spread through sexual contact including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. These viruses can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child, especially during childbirth. This is called congenital transmission. There are many different forms of STIs, however, only four are curable; they are: gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and syphilis.
If you do test positive for one of these infections, it is very important to follow the treatment plan completely to prevent reinfection. The treatment will include an anti-infectant that should be taken as directed by your medical provider. Both you and you partner must be treated. You will both need to abstain from all sexual contact until cleared by a medical provider. Please understand how important this step is. It is common for a patient to be reinfected because he/she resumed sexual relations before both partners had been cured.
There are also other STIs that have lifelong consequences. Although the symptoms of some of these types of STIs can be controlled with antivirals, there is no cure. The top four uncurable viruses are hepatitis B, Herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, and human Papilloma virus (HPV). The curable and incurable STIs mentioned here have the highest infection rates. However, please note that they are not the only STIs.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT AN STI?
The only way to be 100% risk-free is to refrain from having sex, or to be in a committed, monogamous relationship where both partners are free of infection. Condom use is a way to minimize contracting an STI, but it is not 100% effective. Condom use is not effective against minimizing the spread of HSV and HPV. The virus that causes these two STIs lives on and is transmitted through skin contact.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF AN STI?
It is possible to have an STI without experiencing any symptoms (or at least not right away). Viral infections can lay dormant for years and not everyone will show external signs of infection from gonorrhea and chlamydia. This is a large reason why these infections are so frequently unknowingly spread and one of the most important reasons to be tested for STIs.
However, here are a few of the symptoms to look for:
- The curable STIs can potentially cause malodorous and/or discolored discharge from the vagina or male urethra. This discharge can also be seen in the urine and can be accompanied by painful urination.
- Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver and can be accompanied by pain directly under right rib cage; sometimes, a yellowing of the skin and sclera (the white part of the eye) known as jaundice can be seen.
- With HSV, open painful sores can sometimes be present.
- HPV can cause warts and, in some cases, can be known for causing cervical, mouth, or throat cancer.
Again, remember that STIs can remain dormant for years, so just because you haven’t seen any symptoms yet doesn’t mean you have not contracted an STI.
IF YOU AREN’T SURE, GET TESTED
Before starting a sexual relationship with any partner, both you and the potential partner should be tested for STIs. Protecting your health and wellbeing are very important.
If you have any concerns or questions about STIs, please contact Life’s Choices. We provide free tests for gonorrhea and chlamydia along with treatment if you should test positive. In addition, we offer free sexual health education and information. All of our services are provided in a safe and respectful environment. All of our services, including STD/STI testing and treatment, are free and confidential at Life’s Choices.
Life Choice’s is here to empower you to make healthy relationship choices through free resources, education, and mentorship. You are worth it. You are important. Most of all, you are loved! Contact Life’s Choices today.