Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are as you would imagine, infections transmitted via sexual contact. Often passed on unwittingly, they can become sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) if the infection causes a disease, whether treatable or not. There are more than 30 infections with the most common ones including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. Over half a million people are diagnosed with an STI every year in the UK.
How do I get an STI?
Letís start from the top. Literally. STIs can be spread from any form of sex, oral included. Hence, why we advise condom use from the start of any sexual contact. Infections can be spread by bodily fluidsÖ saliva, semen, vaginal fluids and blood namely. Others can simply be spread via skin-to-skin contact, think warts and herpes. Find more info on specific infections here.
How do I know if I have an STI?
Many common STIs, Chlamydia, in particular, have no symptoms whatsoever. Not a dickybird. Consequently, often people are infected for long periods at a time. So, donít be complacent if you are feeling absolutely fine, thereís still a chance you could have an STI and just not know about it yet. Others have symptoms such as pelvic pain, genital itching, discharge, urinary discomfort, unscheduled menstrual bleeding, amongst others.
To diagnose an STI, you need to be seen by a healthcare specialist. This can be at your GP, sexual health clinic or gynaecologist. Testing varies depending on symptoms and sexual history. Any sexual health clinic will have a chat with you, discuss your relationship history and ask about any symptoms you may have. These clinics are all anonymous and completely non-judgemental. You will never surprise a sexual health worker. Believe me.
The investigations are not as scary as you may think. They can include peeing into a pot, blood tests and examinations with swab testing. If there are any tests you are uncomfortable with, you wonít be forced into it.
What happens if I donít get treated?
Most STIs are easily treatable. For example, if you are found to have chlamydia you may only require one dose of antibiotic and Bobís your uncle! The sooner you get treatment, the better, as you can prevent any long-term damage.
Yet, worryingly, some are becoming more and more resistant to medical treatment. In particular, Gonorrhoea is becoming harder, and sometimes impossible to treat as the bacteria is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we are using to treat the infection.
Long-term infection can cause chronic pain, cervical cancer, pregnancy risks, internal scarring and infertility.
How do I protect myself and my partners?
The key is to protect yourself against getting infected in the first place. Condoms help protect against this risk in nearly every case, head here for more detailed information on practising safe sex and visit your doctor for easily accessible, cutting edge health care that puts your needs first. We have your back.
Our HANX top tips:
- Use condoms at the start of any sexual relationship purely for STI protection (not even considering their other usesÖ)
- Ensure you have regular STI testing if you have new sexual partners, whatever they say, you need to be in control of your own body.
- If you have any unusual symptoms, including genital itching, unusual discharge or urinary symptoms, be sure to have an STI check. But remember, many STIs have no symptoms or signs to alert you, and with long-term sequelae including infertility, there is no place for complacency.
- Keep informed and always seek specialist help if you think you may be at risk of an STI.
Make sure you protect your sexual future and play safe.