There’s nothing fun about getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). That’s why it’s important to understand your risk, and take precautions to ensure you don’t end up dealing with the short-term pain or long-term repercussions of an STI.
You can get it by having unprotected sex (vaginal, anal or oral) with someone who is infected. There are many types of STIs, but here are four common ones – and how to minimise your risk of infection.
Chlamydia is the most common STI, particularly among young adults. Sometimes an infected person experiences no symptoms, so may not realise they have it. This means chlamydia can spread easily from one person to another. Symptoms may include a burning sensation when weeing or an unusual discharge from the vagina or penis. Women may experience pain during sex or in the lower belly, and may bleed between periods. Chlamydia can lead to infertility if left untreated or cause problems during pregnancy.
Genital herpes is caused by a virus that you can catch through skin-to-skin contact. It can result in blisters or sores on your genitals, which may look like a rash. The symptoms don’t always appear straight away, so you may not realise you have genital herpes. There’s no cure, and the virus stays in your body for life. The first ‘herpes episode’ is usually the worst, but you may experience further outbreaks in future. Talk to a doctor if the skin around your genitals looks unusual. Your doctor may take a swab of the infected area for testing. You can take an anti-viral medication to ease the symptoms and help prevent spreading infection.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that can also cause infertility if it’s not treated. The symptoms may include an unusual discharge when you urinate. However, some women experience no symptoms. A doctor can diagnose gonorrhea via a urine test and will most likely prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and can appear as small lumps around the genitals, anus and sometimes mouth or throat. You may not see the lumps as they can be inside the cervix or urethra. The infection can be passed on by someone who has the virus, despite having no symptoms. It can take a while for the symptoms to show – anywhere from a few weeks to years. A doctor can remove genital warts via different methods, such as laser treatment or surgery. There’s also a vaccine available for HPV, which is publicly funded for school students.
Reduce your risk
Here’s are four ways you can minimise your chances of getting an STI:
- Talk to your partners. Yes, it can be awkward talking to your sexual partners about STIs, but the benefits outweigh the embarrassment you may experience. It’s worth discussing STIs before you have sex. When was the last time either of you took an STI test? Can you be sure neither of you has an STI?
- Use protection. Condoms offer the best protection during sex for you and your partner. You can also use dental dams during oral sex. Protection is important if you do not know your partner’s sexual history.
- Get regular STI checks. Visit a doctor if you’re having sex with multiple partners or do not know the sexual history of your partner. Regular STI checks can put you at ease and ensure you’re not causing damage to your body or unknowingly spreading disease.
- Limit your sexual partners. The more people you have sex with, the greater your risk of catching an STI. A long-term partner offers the best way to avoid an STI while enjoying a sexual relationship. Just ensure that your partner has had a recent STI check, and you are both free of infection.
Visit your doctor to discuss your risk, prevention and getting an STI check.