When we hear of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) we often think of something to be ashamed of and upset about. Did you know that every year there are almost 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections within the United States? This statistic comes from the CDC, the Center for Disease Control, and may seem staggeringly large. Although this may seem like the end of the world as you know it, remember that you are not alone, and treatments are available. You’ll also be astounded to know that many of these sexually transmitted infections show no symptoms at all, and that most people are completely unaware that they are spreading these to other people, because they have no idea they have it! There are a few common STD and STI types that happen frequently. The most common sexually transmitted infections are HPV (human papillomavirus), chlamydia, and gonorrhea.
Everyone dreads getting tested, and even more so, is anxious while waiting for the call with your results. What happens when that call is your worst nightmare. You may feel afraid and ashamed, and maybe even regret, that you received STD & STI and need treatment as soon as possible. Don’t worry – it’s a lot to process. The thought of having to call sexual partners, or significant others, to tell them to go get tested as well can be extremely stressful in a time that you’re already nervous and scared. STDs and that topic as a whole have a lot of negativity around it. We all hear about preventing them, but we rarely talk about how to handle and manage them.
“I think I have an STD, What Should I do about it?”
The first thing to realize is that even though no one wants to be diagnosed or test positive for an STD, they happen. If you’re sexually active, you’re at risk of contracting something. Remember that having an STD doesn’t make you dirty or disgusting. STDs are actually getting easier and more affordable to treat!
Once you process what’s going on, be sure to see a doctor immediately. While you may not be sexually active, STDs can still have effects on your physical well-being and need to be treated as soon as possible. You may need more tests done, or you may need a simple round of antibiotics to treat it. A good thing to know is that some common sexually transmitted infections are curable, such as chlamydia, trich, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
The next step is to take care of yourself mentally. Everyone finds bad news to be frustrating in many ways. You may want to see a counselor to talk it out with an unbiased third party. Emotional support can really help your own state of mind during this challenging time.
Once you know exactly what you have, you need to notify anyone that you’ve been with sexually so that they can get tested immediately as well. It’s also important to think back to when your last testing was done, and if you could have received it from one of your partners. If they unknowingly spread it, being able to support each other through this time can be very beneficial for both of you.
Though this is likely the last thing on your mind, remember that STDs and STIs are not the end of your sex life. That being said, there are some very important responsibilities you have to take on from this point on, depending on which type you have.
Because bacterial STIs/STDs (such as gonorrhea, syphilis, or chlamydia) can be cured with antibiotics, you should steer clear of sex until your doctor confirms that your treatment is complete and it’s safe to have sexual intercourse. Of course, we always recommend using protection as well, to safeguard any potential scares again.
Viral Infections- HIV, HPV, Hepatitis and Herpes
Viral variants (HIV, HPV, hepatitis and herpes) can’t be cured (yet), only managed. If this is the case, you have to be on top of your treatments, and always disclose your status to a partner. Using protection is again a no-brainer.
If you are diagnosed with a viral infection, make sure you take the viral medication (if it was prescribed to you) to reduce the risk of it spreading to your partner. Other good sexual practices are using condoms, using lubricants to help prevent condoms from breaking, and talking about your status as well as your partners before partaking in any sexual activities.
It may seem awkward or uncomfortable to talk about your STD/STI statuses from the start, but it’s the responsible thing to do, and may just prevent you from getting something that has lifelong repercussions. If you or your partner don’t know your status, use protection, and suggest getting tested together! It’s easier when done together, and gives you peace of mind.
HPV – Human Papillomavirus
Human papillomavirus is one of the most commonly transmitted infections. Pretty much every person who is sexually active will contract it at some point in their life. Some strains of HPV cause no symptoms or medical issues at all! Other forms can lead to very serious health complications, such as cervical cancer and genital warts. Human papillomavirus can also lead to cancer of the throat, known as oropharyngeal cancer. There are estimated to be around 360,000 cases of genital warts per year, and 10,000 cases of cervical cancer per year, according to the Center for Disease Control. These numbers are incredibly scary, especially if you are sexually active and not using protection.
Many times, HPV shows no symptoms until it actually causes genital warts. Genital warts are bumps, sometimes groups of bumps, in the genital area. These may or may not cause pain or discomfort. Cervical cancer is also typically not discovered until you have regular screening with your gynecologist or primary care doctor.
There is a vaccine available for both men and women to assist in protecting you from contracting HPV. These vaccines are usually given in prepubescent age groups, but you are able to request it if you are 26 or under as a catch up. If you haven’t been vaccinated, or don’t want to be vaccinated, you can also reduce your risk of contracting HPV by maintaining a monogamous relationship, using adequate protection such as latex condoms, and getting routinely screened. However, since you can also be affected in your throat, these methods are not always 100 percent effective.
The most commonly reported STD in America is Chlamydia. What is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia, according to the CDC, is the most common STD in the United States that is diagnosed. Chlamydia is a notifiable disease, which means it must be reported to local health departments when it gets diagnosed as this is how outbreaks are monitored. It also helps researchers monitor trends on STDs. This is much different than HPV.
How do you get chlamydia?
Men and women can both get chlamydia. Even though it is super easily cured, it can cause permanent and severe damage to women’s reproductive systems. This can cause it to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for her to become pregnant. It can also cause further problems such as ectopic pregnancies, which is where an egg is fertilized outside of the womb. Most of these ectopic pregnancies end up in miscarriages. Chlamydia can also be passed from a mother to a child.
Much like HPV, people with chlamydia typically don’t have any noticeable symptoms. The most common symptoms in men are discharge from the penis, a burning sensation when urinating, testicular pain, and swelling of the testes. For women, burning urination and abnormal discharge are typically the most common symptoms. These are often mistaken for a UTI, or urinary tract infection due to the similarity in symptoms. Chlamydia can also occur in the rectum. Symptoms for that typically include rectal pain, discharge, and bleeding.
Preventing chlamydia is as simple as having safe sex, using condoms, being in a monogamous relationship, and getting regularly tested. You can reduce your chances of catching chlamydia by using latex condoms correctly and making sure that you have an open and honest conversation about why it is important to get tested for chlamydia. Since this STD is one of the most common, and is often symptom-free, it is imperative that you both are tested to ensure you have not contracted it.
The second most common STI, STD reported in the US: Gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is also a reportable/notifiable disease. While gonorrhea can also be treated pretty successfully, it can also cause serious medical complications and long-term health problems if treatment is delayed. Leaving gonorrhea untreated can increase the risk of contracting HIV, and cause PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) in women. Because of the risk of PID, ectopic pregnancy and infertility are often seen in conjunction with untreated gonorrhea. Much like chlamydia, gonorrhea can be transmitted to unborn children, and can also cause rectal infections. If you are having sex, you are at risk for contracting this common STI & STD.
Gonorrhea symptoms in men typically include painful or burning urination, swollen testicles, and discolored discharge. In women, they may also experience painful or burning urination, as well as bleeding in between their menstrual periods, and an increase in discharge from the vagina.
The only way to really prevent gonorrhea is to not have sex, but you can also decrease your risks the same way that you do with other common STIs – by having safe sex, and by being in a mutually monogamous relationship. Just like with any of these common STIs, the more partners you have, the more likely you are to contract gonorrhea.
What to do if you think you have an STI, STD
If you do think that you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection or sexually transmitted disease, it is imperative and crucial to speak to your doctor immediately. Your physician will be able to run blood work to check for not only common STIs, but less common ones as well and determine what is going on. You should also cease all sexual interaction until you know whether you do or do not have something. Notify your partners if you do test positive, and take all medication as prescribed.
STDs aren’t just something you read about – they’re out there. If you’ve been diagnosed, remember that you are more than your diagnosis. While it’s not fun, and can be both stressful and scary at times, your life will go on, albeit with a few adjustments. Remember, there are many proven benefits of masturbation, with or without sex toys. They can not only enhance your sex life, but help you prevent most common STDs and STIs!