Even if you did have a good sex-ed class in high school or learned everything you needed to know about sex after high school, many people do not know all the facts about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). STIs can be an embarrassing topic, so they are not spoken about enough, but they are extremely common. Here are a few facts about STIs that you probably either never learned or do not remember learning.
Older people also get sexually transmitted infections.
This century experienced a 50% increase in the number of people over 50 getting an STI. Some attribute this increase to how Viagra has reinvigorated the sex lives of older men. Whatever the cause, STIs are no longer just for the young and reckless. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for an STI.
Sex is not the only way to get sexually transmitted infection.
Though unlikely, many STIs can spread through dry humping. Herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, and a few others can also spread if you are either giving or receiving oral sex. Some STIs – such as HIV or hepatitis C – are blood borne. This means that they can be transmitted by doing something as innocent as sharing a razor blade or getting a tattoo from a friend who does not properly clean their needles. You can also get infections like chlamydia in your eye, so your genitals are not the only body part that needs protection.
Some sexually transmitted infections go away without treatment.
Your body will get rid of hepatitis A after about two to six months and this can sometimes also occur if you get hepatitis C. Your body can also treat itself for HPV (human papillomavirus) after a few years. This is not excuse to be unconcerned about sexually transmitted infections, especially if you are sexually active. While your body might be strong enough to banish some viruses and bacteria, other infections will need treatment. You also always need to make sure that you do not transmit any infections to your sexual partners.
You should not ignore signs of a sexually transmitted disease.
Since many people have an STI without knowing about it, there is a common misconception that STDs do not need to be treated. However, common STDs do require treatment. HIV, for example, can eventually lead to AIDS and then death if you ignore symptoms or do not get tested. HPV can cause cancer or genital warts. Gonorrhea and chlamydia cause painful urination, but if left untreated, can lead to more series infections that can cause infertility. Gonorrhea can even spread throughout the rest of your body and cause problems in your joints. Even if you are completely asymptomatic or have something like herpes (which cannot be fully treated), you should still be concerned about your STIs because they can spread to a partner. You do not want to put anyone else at risk, so make sure to get screened for STIs.
There is actually a difference between STD testing and screening.
STD testing is what you get if you are experiencing symptoms such as painful urination or genital sores. Screening is used interchangeably with STD testing, but screening occurs when you do not necessarily have any common symptoms. Your doctor may simply decide that you need screening because you are sexually active. The good news is that, during testing or screening, you will not have to get your urethra swabbed. You may have heard a rumor that urethral swabbing was a way of testing for a couple of STIs. However, this only used to be true. Now, any STI can be tested without getting your urethra swabbed.
There is also a difference between an STD and an STI.
STDs are, as the name suggests, sexually transmitted diseases. Likewise, STIs are infections. The difference is that being infected with a bacteria or virus does not necessarily mean you experience symptoms. In fact, when it comes to sexually transmitted infections, a lot of people are asymptomatic. This means that you do not actually have a disease; you just have an infection. So STIs and STDs usually refer to the same set of medical conditions, but STI might actually be the more accurate term because it includes those who do not experience symptoms.
Some sexually transmitted diseases have unexpected symptoms.
You may already know that many people are asymptomatic, but many STDs are mistaken for something else like the flu. There are also some STDs that have a few atypical symptoms. For example, syphilis can sometimes present itself in the form of a painless ulcer or as a canker sore. Herpes can cause a tingling sensation. So an STD does not always mean painful sex, genital, sores, or difficulty with urination.
An STD test can be inaccurate if administered too soon after exposure.
If you had sex that you thought was a little sketchy or unsafe, it is always best to be cautious and get tested. But your first course of action is that you should stop having sex with anyone else to reduce the risk of causing the infection to spread. Getting testing is important, but you might have to wait a little bit. Different STIs are associated with viruses or bacteria that have different incubation periods, so you have to wait for that period to pass before getting tested. Otherwise, there will not be enough detectable STI markers and antibodies in your blood or urine samples to show that you are infected. So if you are worried about a sexual incident that felt unsafe, you cannot go in for testing the following day.
Condoms may not be as effective as you think at preventing sexually transmitted infections.
If you are having sex, then condoms are usually the best way to prevent the spread of STIs, but there are times when condoms may not work. For example, genital herpes can spread through contact of the skin surrounding your genitals. Since condoms only really protect your genitals and not your thighs or buttocks, condoms may not always work to prevent the transmission of herpes. It is still always good to use a condom, but be aware of when it might not actually keep you safe.
The CDC estimates that there are a lot of people who have STIs and many of those infected have no idea that they have it. This means that, if you are sexually active, you should stay alert for signs and symptoms, get screened often, and try to have safe sex. It may be an uncomfortable subject, but try to make sure your sexual partners are aware of any STI that you might transmit to them.