• STDs

    Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are commonly passed from one person to another through sexual activity, especially vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

What you need to know

The organisms that cause STDs may spread from person to person via blood, semen or vaginal fluids. Many STDs don’t show symptoms but can cause serious health problems. And, the only way to know for sure that you have an STD is to get tested.

The good news is that getting tested is no big deal and most STDs can be easily cured.

What are some of the most common STDs?

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. In women, symptoms may include burning with urination, abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal discharge that may be yellow and foul smelling, and bleeding in between periods. Chlamydia symptoms in men may include pain when urinating and abnormal penile discharge. If left untreated, chlamydia may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Gonorrhea is caused by a bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhea. The bacteria lives on the moister membranes of the body (urethra, vagina, rectum, eyes, mouth, throat).

Symptoms in men include painful urination, penile discharge (yellow, white or green) and swollen testicles. Many women do not show symptoms, but if they do, these include painful urination, include painful urination, increased vaginal discharge and severe abdominal pain. Gonorrhea can also affect rectum, eyes, throat, and joints.

Herpes stems from the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The two most common types of herpes are HSV-1 (typically acquired orally) and HSV-2 (usually acquired during sexual contact). Many people with herpes do not show symptoms but if they do occur, these include fluid-filled blisters on the cervix, fever and sores around the mouth (HSV-1) or genital area (HSV-2). Even if there are no symptoms, herpes can be transmitted by skin to skin contact with the infected areas.

Syphilis is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pallidum and usually spreads by sexual contact. It starts as a painless sore (on genitals or mouth) and spreads through direct contact with syphilis sores, and vaginal, oral and anal sex. Symptoms include sores, lesions in mucus membranes and swollen lymph glands. As syphilis damages the body, it can cause paralysis, dementia or blindness.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a type of virus called a retrovirus that attacks the body’s immune system. The virus kills the white blood cells responsible for fighting off infections. HIV can only be transmitted by coming into contact with infected body fluids like semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk and not through kissing or hugging. Symptoms include headaches, swollen lymph glands, sores or lesions, fever and joint pain. Since HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system, the body becomes vulnerable to all kinds of infections. Although HIV/AIDS is incurable, there are antiretroviral medications to keep the virus under control and allow people with diseases to live a healthy life.

Risk factors for STD

The following factors increase the risk of STDs:

  • Having unprotected sex: People who have sex without using condoms are at a high risk of getting STDs.
  • Increased number of sexual partners: The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your risk of getting STDs.
  • Having a history of STDs: If you’ve ever had any sexually transmitted infection, it is easier for other infections to take hold.

How to reduce the risk of getting an STD?

The following factors increase the risk of STDs:

  • Abstinence: The surest way to avoid STDs is abstaining from any sexual act.
  • Mutual monogamy: Committing to a long-term monogamous relationship with a person who is not infected lowers the risk of getting an STD.
  • Vaccinations: Currently, vaccines are available for protection against infection with HPV and hepatitis B.
  • Check for infections: Before engaging in any sexual activity, make sure you and the partner don’t have any STDs.
  • Education: It’s important for parents, schools and society to teach children about their bodies, sex and relationships to help them stay healthy and make right choices as they grow.

Some STD-related myths debunked

Myth#1: If your partner has an STD, you can see it
Fact: Absolutely false. You can have an STD and show no symptoms at all. People with chlamydia or HIV show very few symptoms. Therefore, it is important to practice safe sex at all times because infections are often spread between partners who show no symptoms of the disease.

Myth#2: I can get an STD from a toilet seat
Fact: There has been no scientific study that shows you can get an STD from a toilet seat. STDs are transmitted via contact with infected secretions or blood.

Myth#3: All forms of contraceptives prevent STD transmission
Fact: Condoms (external and internal) are the only forms of contraceptives that also protect against STD transmission. Hormonal contraceptives do not protect against HIV or any other STD.

Myth#4: I have only one partner, I can’t get an STD
Fact: A monogamous relationship won’t automatically protect you from contracting STDs. Even if you have only one partner, it’s important to know about your partner’s past relationships. The only way to be 100 percent sure that you and your partner don’t have an STD is to get tested by a medical professional before engaging in any sexual contact.

Myth#5: I can’t get an STD from oral sex
Fact: Many STDs like HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea can spread through oral sex. However, the chances of contracting or spreading an STD from oral sex can be lowered by using condoms and dental dams.

STD-related stigma and how to end it?

For many people, the worst part of having an STD is the fear and shame associated with it. Lack of information and awareness lead many people to believe that these infections are a result of moral weakness. The stigma causes increased rates of STD transmission and prevents people from getting treatment. This can lead to devastating and long-term complications.

But, don’t let the fear of being labelled as “dirty” prevent you from seeking help. There are various online resources that can help you find STD testing centers near you. If you’re sexually active or experience any of the STD symptoms, make an appointment with an STD clinic near you for treatment and advice about protecting your sexual health in the future.