Stay “In the Know” with STD’s
Sexually Transmitted Diseases & Infections… Just reading the phrase feels uncomfortable. We are conditioned at a young age to believe that STDs are one of the worst things that can happen to us and that if we catch one, our love lives are over. They are intimidating to talk about and are commonly misunderstood.
Having an STD is not a dating death sentence. Plus, all STDs are different; the bacterial ones are curable or treatable, while only a few (the viral ones) are incurable. They all have different symptoms that have different effects on our bodies, while some might not even display symptoms at all. And have I mentioned how common they actually are? According to the American Social Health Organization, one out of four teens in the U.S becomes infected with an STD each year. By the age of 25, half of all sexually active young adults may contract an STD.
All this being said, nobody wants an STD. The best way to protect yourself against them is to understand what they are and how they can be avoided. By definition, an STD is a disease that is spread through sexual contact with an infected individual. Viruses and bacteria can enter through tears or cuts on your skin anywhere, not just the genitals. You can contract one from sexual activity that involves the mouth, anus, vagina or penis. In general, STDS are transmitted through fluid exchange. However, some (like genital warts or herpes) can be transmitted through skin to skin contact with a sore or infected area.
Here are some symptoms and general information on some of the most common STDS:
This is the most common bacterial STD, and can be treated with antibiotics. While it does not present symptoms consistently, any noticeable ones will appear in two or three weeks. If you have Chlamydia, you may experience the following:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that may have an odor
- Bleeding between periods
- Painful periods
- Painful Sex
- Itching/ burning in vagina
- Painful urination
- Cloudy discharge from tip of penis
- Painful urination
- Burning/ itching around opening of the penis
- Pain and swelling around the testicles
This is the second common bacterial STD, but unlike Chlamydia, Gonorrhea has more serious consequences if it goes untreated. These bacteria can grow inside of you and do damage to your fallopian tubes or prostate. Gonorrhea can also lead to infertility in both women and men. If you do experience symptoms, this is what you might find:
- Greenish yellow or white discharge from vagina
- Lower abdominal/ pelvic pain
- Painful/ Burning urination
- Conjunctivitis (red, itchy eyes)
- Bleeding between periods
- Spotting after intercourse
- Swelling of vulva
- Burning in the throat/ swollen glands
- Greenish yellow or white discharge from penis
- Burning urination
- Burning in the throat
- Painful or swollen testicles
- Swollen glands
This viral STD affects about 20% of adults in America, which totals to 3 million cases per year. The symptoms of this virus are mild so it can be a surprise when you find any genital sores or warts. An HSV infection could be a single outbreak or multiple outbreaks that occur for years or is chronic. There are two types of Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSV).
HSV Type 1
This may cause cold sores and fever blisters around the lips and sometimes genitals. Kissing or sharing eating utensils spreads this.
HSV Type 2
This type may cause sores in the genital area and on the mouth. This is spread by sexual contact. Most tests are done for sores on the genitals, but getting tested is the only way to know which type you have.
Both types have no cure, but antiviral medications can shorten an outbreak and reduce the recurrences, but it is always there. Certain stressors and emotions may trigger outbreaks.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a collection of viruses that can cause warts on your feet, hands and genitals. There are about 100 related viruses within HPV. Sixty of these may cause warts on your hands and feet, while the other 40 can cause warts on the anus and genital area.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 20 million people in the U.S are infected with HPV. HPV can infect men and women of any age, although this virus is thought of a teenage issue.
HPV is sexually transmitted, but a condom cannot fully protect from someone with an infection. This is spread by contact with infected skin, which may not be on the genitals. Many times the infections have no symptoms and those infected don’t realize they’re spreading the virus. Currently, there is no HPV test for men.
There is such a thing as high-risk and low-risk HPV because HPV has 100 strains that affect our bodies in different ways. The infections may be cleared over time without any symptoms if your infection was of low risk. Most women’s bodies cure the virus on their own within one year. High-risk HPV infections can cause abnormalities on the cervix cells, which may lead to cancer. There is, however a vaccine for women that prevents the most harmful strains of HPV. It may rarely cause penile and anal infections.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of HPV, as well as all STDs.
- Limit the number of sexual partners
- Choose partners with few sexual partners
- Long-term monogamy
While condoms may not protect you from all STDs, they are the number one way reduce your chances of being infected (if you choose to be sexually active.) When used correctly, male condoms can be 98% effective. So they are not magical penis gloves that will protect you from everything, but they try their best. There are certain precautions you can take to make sure your condoms are always up to par.
- Keep your condoms out of the sun and light. The heat may damage the condoms and they may rip easily.
- Don’t carry condoms in a wallet because they become worn down.
- Check the expiration dates! Condoms don’t last forever, sorry.
- Leave enough room at the tip of the penis when applying a condom. The condom may tear if it is too tight.
- Too much friction and not enough lubrication. Use some lube people!
- Change your condom! They are not reusable and should be changed at least every thirty minutes.
We all love sex, so help us keep it fun and safe. Getting an STD is not the end of the world, but it will affect your sex life. Get tested every six months even if you haven’t been with many partners. When in doubt, wrap it up or keep ‘em closed.