April is STI Awareness Month; so before May rolls around, book yourself in for a routine STI and sexual health checkup with your doctor. Many sexually transmitted infections and diseases present no symptoms, which is why it’s so important to protect yourself by using condoms.
Chlamydia is currently one of the most common STIs, and can cause serious and permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system that can make it difficult or impossible to get pregnant. One of the most dangerous things about chlamydia is that it often has no symptoms, meaning carriers can have the infection for weeks without knowing.
Chlamydia can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex, and can be passed on even when an infected person shows no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing pelvic inflammatory disease.
If symptoms do present, they may include an abnormal discharge, a burning sensation when peeing, and occasionally in men, pain and swelling in one or both testicles.
Testing for chlamydia is as simple as providing a urine or swap sample at your doctor. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics, though it’s important to be retested for chlamydia after treatment since reinfection can occur.
The only way to prevent the contraction of chlamydia during sex is to use condoms.
Genital HPV Infection
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, and is so common that doctors estimate nearly all sexually active women will get it at some point in their lives. HPV can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex, and can be passed on even when an infected person shows no symptoms.
There are many different types of HPV. In most cases the virus goes away on its own and doesn’t cause any health issues. However, when HPV does not go away, it has the potential to lead to problems like genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis or anus, which can take decades to develop after infection. It has also been linked to cancer in the back of the throat, base of the tongue and tonsils.
Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms. Some people find out they have HPV if they develop genital warts, and some women may discover they have HPV if the results of a cervical cancer-screening test show abnormal cells. This is why Pap smears are so important for the sexual health of women.
There is now a vaccine to protect against HPV that is available for children aged around 12 years, and ‘catch-up’ vaccines for women aged up to 26 and men aged up to 21.
For women who fall outside the age of vaccination, using condoms can lower your chances of contracting HPV, although it’s important to note that HPV can affect areas that are not covered by condoms, so condoms cannot provide full protection against the virus.
Genital herpes is estimated to affect around 1 in every 6 people, and can be transmitted through can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex. The fluids found in a herpes sore carry the virus, and contact with those fluids can cause infection. It is possible to contract herpes from an infected partner who does not have a visible sore (or who may not even know are infected) because the virus can be released through your skin and spread the infection to your sex partner.
Most people who have herpes have no, or very mild symptoms. Mild symptoms can be mistaken for another skin condition, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. Genital herpes sores usually appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum or mouth. Herpes blisters can break and leave painful sores that may take weeks to heal, and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms like body aches or swollen glands.
More often than not a doctor can diagnose herpes simply by looking at symptoms, although they may also take samples for testing. Though there is no cure for herpes, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks, and make it less likely for the virus onto sexual partners.
While condoms can aid in the protection against this infection, outbreaks can also occur in areas that are not covered by a condom, meaning condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
Gonorrhea can be transmitted via anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has the infection. Like many other STIs, it often presents no symptoms – and mild symptoms can be mistaken for bladder or vaginal infections. When symptoms do present, they can include an unusual discharge and a burning sensation in both women and men. Additional symptoms can include vaginal bleeding between periods for women, and painful or swollen testicles for men.
Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
The testing and diagnosis of gonorrhea is relatively simple. Urine can be tested for the infection, although in some cases swabs may be required. Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment, although some drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea can be more difficult to treat. If symptoms persist for more than a few days after receiving medical treatment, it’s important to go back to the doctor to be checked again.
To protect yourself against gonorrhea, use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
Syphilis is often referred to by doctors as a great imitator, because it can present a range of possible symptoms – many of which look like symptoms for other infections. The painless syphilis sores that can present themselves after first being infected can be confused with ingrown hairs or other seemingly harmless bumps, which is part of what makes this infection so dangerous.
When not treated, syphilis can cause long-term complications, and the symptoms can be divided into three stages. The disease can be contracted by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, oral or anal sex.
Because syphilis sores can be hidden in the vagina, anus, under the foreskin of the penis, or in the mouth, it may not be obvious that a sex partner has syphilis.
The diagnosis of syphilis is simple. Most of the time doctors will test blood samples, though sometimes testing the fluid from a syphilis sore may be required. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics.
Condoms are the only way to protect against the contraction of syphilis.
Remember, you are in control of your body. Always protect yourself with condoms when you’re engaging in sex outside of a mutually monogamous sexual relationship, and get regular routine STI checkups and pap smears.
Want to know more about condoms? Check out our recent post, Happy Condom Awareness Month.