Are you at the start of a new relationship but you have recently discovered that you have an STD and don’t know how to proceed?
Experts all agree on the following:
- Tell your partner ASAP
- Avoid sexual contact until you get the all clear from your doctor or clinic
- Only state the facts when you tell your new partner – too much information is not a good idea
- Give your new partner time to process the information.
As knowledge is one of the best weapons against STDs, always make sure you are on top of the latest information.
These ten questions and answers about STIs could help keep your sex life fun, exciting and safer – “safer” being the preferred term, as no sex is completely safe from STIs, apart from total abstinence.
1. What’s an STI?
An STI is a sexually transmissible infection. Any touching of the genitals, including oral, vaginal and anal sex, puts you at risk of getting an STI.
2. What if an STD goes undetected?
Many untreated STDs can cause very severe complications. For example, gonorrhoea can spread to your joints, skin, and even the retina of your eyes. Girls with chlamydia or gonorrhoea may be unable to have children. Untreated syphilis can affect your heart, brain and other organs. Women and men with STIs can pass them on to other people and women with untreated STIs can pass them on to their new-born babies who can develop mental retardation, blindness, infections in their joints or even die. It’s estimated that half of the sexually active South Africans have an STI like HPV (human papillomavirus virus). If left untreated, it can lead to cervical cancer in women and some forms of penile cancer in men. Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, trichomoniasis, HPV, syphilis, genital warts and hepatitis A, B and C. It’s very important that an STI is treated as early as possible.
3. Who’s at risk of getting an STI?
Anyone who has unprotected sex can contract an STI during vaginal, anal or oral sex. When starting a sexual relationship, use either male condoms or female condoms and dental dams (square piece of thin latex used for protection against vaginal and anal secretions) for at least three months. These devices are available at most pharmacies.
4. How can I catch an STI?
STIs are caused by bacteria and viruses that are found in vaginal fluids, pre-ejaculation, semen, breast milk and blood. Apart from having unprotected sex, you can get an STI by direct contact with infected blood, needle-stick injuries or from mother to child during birth or breastfeeding.
5. How do I know if I’ve an STI?
While most STIs have no symptoms, get tested immediately if you’ve:
- Unusual genital and/or anal discharge
- Genital sores, growths or lumps
- Pain when passing urine
- Painful sex or bleeding after sex (when it’s not your first time)
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Genital pain
- Irregular bleeding in between periods.
6. What tests are done for STIs?
Tests for STIs include a blood test, urine analysis, Pap smear or discharge swab from the penis. You can get tested at your doctor’s office or your local public health clinic. Results for certain STIs can either be done while you wait or your sample may have to be sent to the lab for analysis.
7. How are STIs treated?
Some STIs, such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia and trichomoniasis, are treated with a course of antibiotics while others, such as herpes and HIV, require ongoing treatment with antiviral medication. You must finish the course of antibiotics even when feeling better and if you take your antivirals exactly as directed, it’s possible to lower your virus count to nearly undetectable levels.
8. What if my symptoms recur?
Watch carefully for returning STI symptoms and always attend any follow-up appointments that your nurse or doctor scheduled. Once you’ve contracted one STI, you’re more vulnerable to others, so be on the safe side and get tested every six months.
9. Who’s more at risk of becoming infected with an STI – men or women?
If exposed to STIs, women are more likely to become infected than men due to biological factors. Women have a greater area of exposure (the cervix and the vagina) than men, and small tears may occur in the vaginal tissue during sex, making an easy pathway for infection.
10. My new partner and I want to stop using condoms because we’re going to use the pill instead. I’ve never had sex before but my partner has had sex with several people before me. How can we make sure we’re safe?
Your partner might have contracted an STI from a previous partner, which puts you at risk of an STI too. Until you’ve both been tested, continue using condoms with a water-based lubricant. The highest risk for contracting HIV is having unprotected sex with someone who thinks he/she is HIV-negative, but is in fact seroconverting (becoming HIV positive) because that’s when the viral load is at its highest.