Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are caused by bacteria or viruses usually passed through sexual contact with an infected partner. STIs include many diseases, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, and syphilis.
All STIs can be prevented and with the exception of viral infections, i.e. genital herpes, genital warts, hepatitis, and HIV infection (AIDS), most STIs can be cured. However, many STIs, if not immediately treated, can go on to cause serious medical problems.
STIs are a danger to everyone who has sex, even once. Unborn children are at a risk, too! If left untreated, STIs can have serious side effects, including:
- Sterility (being unable to have a child);
- Brain damage (neurological complications);
- Heart disease (cardiac complications);
- Birth defects (neonatal complications);
- Increased risk for some types of cancer (HPV-related);
But, you can be infected without knowing it. If someone, such as your sex partner or local Public Health Department tells you that you have been exposed to an STI, it is very important that you get tested and treated immediately!
You can help protect yourself from STIs, including HIV, in the following ways:
Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid getting an STI. If you are sexually active or decide to become sexually active, the you can decrease your risks of acquiring an STI by...
- Having a monogamous relationship. Sex is considered safe if both you and your partner are not infected, have never shot drugs, and have never had sex with anyone else. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, be sure to:
- Using protective barriers, such as condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, etc.;
- Limiting the number of partners you have. The more partners you have, the greater the risk of being exposed to an STI. Remember, you can't tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them;
- Having regular physical exams. Ask you physician to test for STIs if you think you've been exposed. Regular tests help find STIs early, when treatment can be most effective. STIs are spread through contact with:infected body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions, or semen and potentially via contact with infected skin or mucous membranes - for example, sores in the mouth.
Activities that expose you to infected body fluids or skin include:
Vaginal, anal, or oral sex without proper use of barriers, such as latex condoms, latex dental dams and latex gloves. Anal sex is especially risky because it often causes bleeding. Having an STI may increase your risk of getting HIV. Certain STIs cause sores. These sores may provide a way for the HIV virus to get into the body.
You cannot get an STI from everyday, non-sexual activities, such as:
- Giving blood;
- Sitting next to an infected person;
- Sitting on toilet seats;
- Sharing eating utensils;
- Touching doorknobs;
- Using swimming pools.
If you have an STI, start proper medical treatment immediately!
Home remedies and naturopathic/homeopathic treatments don't work!
Talk to all sex partner(s) who may have been exposed. Encourage them to get tested. Both partners need to be treated to avoid reinfection.
Avoid vaginal, anal and oral sex until your physician says it's okay so you don't get reinfected, or spread the disease to others. Typically this is during your treatment and for seven days following antibiotic therapy – your physician will advise you accordingly.
Follow your treatment plan and finish all medications, even if you feel well. Follow up exams can make sure treatment was effective.
Get counseling if you're worried or upset about having an STI.
Other ways to prevent infection
- Don't inject drugs. Sharing needles or syringes can expose you to infected blood. Not injecting drugs is an essential part of protecting yourself from STIs.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs. The associated disinhibition can make you more likely to take chances when having sex.
- Don't douche. You may force germs farther into the vagina.
- Urinate after sex. For women, this can help reduce the risk of getting a bladder infection called "cystitis". Urinating after sex does NOT replace the need to use protective barriers (latex condoms, latex dental dams, and latex gloves).
Condoms help protect both partners from STIs and unwanted pregnancy. To use a condom properly, you will need:
- A latex condom ("rubber"). The HIV virus and other STIs may pass through "natural" or "skin" condoms;
- A water-based lubricant. This helps keep the condom from breaking. Never use products that contain oil or fat, like petroleum jelly or cooking oil. These products weaken latex and may cause the condom to break;
- A new condom. Use one every time you have sex, even oral or anal. Discard any "new" condom that's damaged, sticky, or brittle.
To use condoms correctly
- Put the condom on before engaging in any sexual contact. Put a drop of lubricant in the tip of the condom;
- Leave a small space at the tip of the condom as a reservoir to collect semen. Ensure to cover the penis completely. Yes, there are different sizes of condoms, just as there are different sizes of organs! Make sure it fits right!!;
- Smooth out any air bubbles to reduce stress on the condom. The application of lubricant on the outside of the condom assists in improving sensation during penetration;
- It is prudent to occasionally check the status of your condom during sex to make sure it's unbroken and still on properly;
- Prolonged sexual relations may weaken your condom – if your stamina is such that you can outlast your condom – change it as required;
- It is important to think about your partner in the post-coital phase -withdraw slowly right after climax. Hold the condom by its base so it doesn't slip off. A retained condom is not pleasant and can increase the risk of STI’s and their complications;
- Do your part and dispose of your used condom properly;
- Do not use condoms that have been exposed to prolonged or excessive heat, sunlight or cold – they may be prone to breakage;
- Check the expiry date!