Let’s Talk about Sex(ually Transmitted Infections)

by Megan Stubbs

Being sick is never fun. You feel gross, and you can’t go out with your friends because you might pass on your sickness to them. This is the same whether you have strep throat or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Both strep throat and chlamydia are caused by bacteria, yet one is acceptable to say you have.
“Sorry, I’m going to miss work. I have strep throat.” The other is shamed and shunned because it is transmitted sexually. “Sorry, I’m going to be out today due to my Chlamydia…hello?” An STI is nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that you need to be responsible for and educated about, especially if you intend to play with others.

Chlamydia

According to the Center for Disease Control, chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STI in the US. It is estimated that 1 in 20 sexually active young women aged 14-24 years has chlamydia. It is a bacteria that can be transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex and is curable with antibiotics. Reduce your risk to exposure by using male latex condoms and/or female condoms.

Gonorrhea

There are 820,000 new Gonorrhea infections reported each year in the US. It is the second most reported sexually transmitted infection; transmitted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. It is curable with antibiotics and to help reduce your risk, use latex condoms during vaginal or anal intercourse.

While transmission through oral sex is rare, it is still beneficial to use some form of a barrier. We are down to only one recommended treatment option as it has become super gonorrhea. So it is even more imperative that if contracted, you take your antibiotics throughout their prescribed course.

Herpes

Herpes is a common infection in the US. The CDC estimates that, annually, 776,000 people in the United States get new herpes infections. The most common form is oral herpes followed by genital herpes. Outbreaks may come and go, but you will always be a carrier of the virus. It can be acquired through activities like touching and kissing, but it can also be transmitted sexually via vaginal, anal and oral sex.

There has to be contact with the infected area, but that doesn’t mean if you don’t see anything that you may not be contagious. Many people who carry the virus are asymptomatic and can unknowingly transmit the virus to their partner. Herpes is especially contagious when there are open sores present.

To protect yourself from getting herpes, use a condom to limit your risk for exposure. If you have active sores, abstain from any sexual contact until seven days after the sores heal because the virus can be spread to areas that are not protected by a condom. While there is no cure, you can help reduce your outbreak time.There are also medications to help reduce the number of outbreaks.

“Be safe, be smart, have fun, and remember to always talk before engaging sexually with a new partner.”

HIV & AIDS

HIV is the abbreviation for the human immunodeficiency virus. It is this virus that causes people to get AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV can be passed through blood, semen (including pre-ejaculate), breast milk, vaginal fluid and contaminated needles. Avoid using contaminated needles and do not engage in intercourse without a condom. Transmission through oral sex is debated because an open wound or sore is needed to come in contact with infected fluid. So unless you have a mouth wound or dental work recently, technically you are less likely to contract it, but, the transmission risk is still there.

There is no cure for AIDS yet, but it’s not a death sentence like it used to be.
With medication, people can still live out full lives while managing their symptoms. Medications like PEP and PrEP are helpful in preventing HIV. PEP (Post-exposure prophylaxis), involves taking medicines very soon after a possible exposure to HIV to prevent infection. PrEP, (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), can help prevent HIV infection in people who don’t have the virus but who are at high risk of becoming infected.

HPV

HPV stands for human papillomavirus and is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Seventy-nine million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. The CDC tells us that there are 40 types of HPV that can infect genital areas including the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, or scrotum. Some forms of HPV cause genital warts, which are very contagious in their own right. HPV has also been known to cause cervical cancer, but by getting vaccinated against the virus, you can reduce your risk. It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact so use a condom or a barrier like a dental dam to avoid exposure during oral sex and intercourse.

Pubic Lice

The species of louse that can inhabit the pubic region is Phthirus pubis, more commonly known as crabs. The lice can be spread from sharing towels with someone infected or coming into contact with their skin. They can be rid of by using medication that is usually in the form of a shampoo.

Multiple applications may be necessary. And contrary to popular belief, shaving will not rid you of a crab infestation.

Syphilis

The bacterium responsible for this STI is Treponema pallidum. It is transmitted when there is direct contact to a syphilis sore and can infect the external genitals, anus, rectum, even your lips and in your mouth! If caught early enough, within the first year, syphilis can be cured with a single dose of penicillin. Protect yourself with the use of a female or male latex condom.

Check locally to find out where you can get tested. It’s painless and it’s great to know, especially when you’re having the talk with a new play partner. For those of you who think that having that talk is a mood killer, imagine how bummed out you’d feel if you actually contracted something.

Be proactive, not reactive. And if prescribed antibiotics, ALWAYS remember to take your prescription all the way through! Don’t stop halfway because you are starting to feel better; you don’t want to build up a resistance to the medication and have something like antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea!

Be safe, be smart, have fun and remember to always talk before engaging sexually with a new partner. Ask when the last time they were tested and if they had anything, make sure it has been resolved. Also, decide what safer sex means to you and stick to your boundaries. Honoring your body and practicing responsible sexuality is key. Sites like the CDC and Planned Parenthood are great resources to learn more about a specific STI, but in no way should be used in lieu of seeing a doctor!

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