STIs, formerly known as STDs, are a serious problem for sexually-active people that are spread through unprotected sex. According to the American Sexual Health Association 1 in 4 young adults will become infected with and STI. Sexually Transmitted Infections are – at best – irritating nuisances, and – at worst – life-threatening illnesses that definitely cut the fun out of any sexual encounter. Let’s take a look at just a few of the most common STIs and their symptoms.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. It is a bacterial infection and can be spread through any type of sex (vaginal, anal and oral). Young women and girls are at especially high risk to get this infection, which could cause infertility. Symptoms include: itching, burning during urination, discomfort, pelvic pain and abnormal discharge.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 700,000 people in the United States become infected with gonorrhea each year. This infection is spread through any contact with infected genitalia. Symptoms often go unnoticed, but can include unusual discharge, burning during urination and pelvic discomfort. It is a common cause of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in women, which can lead to infertility.
Genital herpes is caused by viruses and is characterized by painful blisters in the genital area. It can be spread through any sexual contact – including oral sex – even if the infected person is not showing symptoms. Even after their blisters have gone away, a person still has herpes. Blisters can break out again weeks or even months after the end if the initial outbreak. For more details see the CDC's fact sheet for Genital herpes.
HIV is one of the most serious STIs. It attacks a person’s immune system and can cause AIDS, for which there is no cure. HIV/AIDS is a major cause of death throughout the world, with more than 1.2 million people dying from this STI each year. Because it is the result of a weakened immune system, AIDS can cause a person to die from seemingly minor illnesses such as the flu. More information can be found at the World Health Organization's website.
How to Prevent STIs
This seems like an obvious one, but you might be surprised to know that more than half of sexually active young adults ages 18-24 don’t use condoms every time. Not only can this lead to terrible STIs, it can also cause unwanted pregnancies for women. Using condoms is a very simple way to prevent unwanted outcomes of having sex. (Don’t trust your partner to take care of it – make sure you have condoms ready and available!)
For oral sex, using dental dams can be a great way to shield yourself from STIs through mouth-to-genital contact. For more information, follow this link.
The best way to know if you or your sexual partner has an STI is to get tested! This will ensure that you don’t spread any infections that you have and that you don’t contract any from your partner. To find a testing center near you, follow this link. Most college campuses will have testing centers and condoms available for students.
Know the Signs of an STI
Knowledge is power! If you can recognize an STI, you can take steps to help the infected person get treatment and encourage him or her to stop having sex until approved by a doctor. Some of the most common signs are itching, burning, blisters, sores, flu-like symptoms and and unusual discharge.
STIs are a very common side-effect of sex, so it's important that sexually active people practice safe sex to prevent the spread of disease. Using condoms or other physical protection methods are the best way to remain safe, but having knowledge about STIs can also be a great asset in keeping yourself protected. Sexually active people should be able to recognize symptoms of an STI and know where to go for help. However, just because a person is not showing symptoms does not mean they don’t have the infection. Any sexually active person is at risk for STIs – and therefore can spread them to others. Sometimes your partner may not know he or she has an STI, or they may lie about having one. That's why it's so important to use condoms; they're the best way to stay happy and healthy while you are sexually active.
If you have any questions about STIs or why it’s important to practice safe sex, visit the CDC's website or PAMF's website.
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