FAQs: everything you need to know about STIs
Updated: Mar 2
Generally, the idea of catching an STI is pretty off-putting if you think about it too much, so most people don't. Especially if you're studying at university, for example, which meeting loads of new people and having new experiences. However, failing to take a few simple safety precautions could result in some pretty uncomfortable symptoms (and experiences) for you to have to deal with. In this article, we explain what STIs/STDs are, the symptoms you could experience, how and where to get treatment and most importantly, how to mitigate your risks of ever catching one.
What are Sexually transmitted infections?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed along via sexual contact with another person. STDs or STIs can be caused by:
Bacteria (for example, gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia)
Viruses (human papillomavirus, genital herpes, HIV)
The bacteria, viruses or parasites that cause the diseases or infections to pass from person to person in blood, semen, vaginal and other bodily fluids.
What are the risk factors of catching an STI?
Anyone who is sexually active risks exposing themselves to a sexually transmitted disease or infection to some degree. However, there are a number of factors that could increase your risk and so may be useful to know:
This is one that I'm sure most people are aware of, but it's definitely worth mentioning. If you have vaginal or anal sex with someone who is infected and isn't wearing a condom, you significantly increase your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection or disease. So condoms aren't just a contraceptive option, they are also an effective way to protect yourself from contracting any infections or diseases from your sexual partner or partners.
Oral sex is much less risky, but there is still a chance that you could catch something without the use of a condom or dental dam, so it's definitely something to be aware of.
Sexual contact with multiple partners
It stands to reason that the more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your risk. This doesn't mean that you should rush to the nearest convent or monastery and not bother at all, just that you should be aware of the risks and try to make sure you are as safe and protected as you can be.
It doesn't matter whether you have had sexual contact with concurrent partners or have been involved in consecutive monogamous relationships. Either way, you should do your best to make sure you use protection and are aware of the risks.
History of STIs
If you have or have had an STI or STD in the past, your likelihood of contracting another is higher. This is because it's easier for another STI to take hold and infect you if you have already been exposed to one. If you have an STI or have been treated for one in the past, it's worth you taking a bit of extra care to protect yourself from catching anything else in the future.
If you have been victim to any kind of sexual assault
If you have been assaulted or have been the victim of rape, dealing with the emotional and physical trauma can be really tough. You may feel vulnerable, violated and totally and completely afraid of what to do next.
Whatever you choose to do and however you choose to cope and deal with the sexual assault, you should make sure that you are okay physically by having STD & STI screenings and have your doctor check you out as soon as possible. If you need more support, we have included some resources at the end of this article.
If I have an STI or STD, what symptoms would I experience?
STIs don't always have noticeable symptoms, so you could be infected with one without even knowing it. This is why it is important to get checked out systematically for both your own protection and for the protection of your future sexual partners.
However, there are a number of common symptoms that may be an indicator of a sexually transmitted disease or infection. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should visit your doctor:
Unusual discharge from the vagina or discharge from the penis
Painful passing of urine or a burning sensation when you pee
Itches, rashes, lumps or blisters around the genitals or anus
Pain and/or bleeding during sex
Bleeding in between periods, even if you are using hormonal contraception
Bleeding after sex
Pain in the testicles
Prolonged pain in the lower abdomen
Signs and symptoms may appear after a few days, or they may not manifest until years later before you notice any problems, depending on the infection or disease. This is another reason why it is important to get tested regularly.
I'm worried I might have an STI, what do I do?
If you think there's a possibility that you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection or disease, then you should make an appointment with your doctor or a sexual health clinic. We understanding how daunting it can be and you may be feeling a little embarrassed. However, going for regular sexual health checks is the mature thing to do. At Vaila Health, we ensure the utmost privacy when handling your data, and you can feel at ease in our small, personal and private healthcare clinics.
Pop us an email at email@example.com or call 0333 577 5999 to speak to one of our friendly team. Alternatively, you can book straight in using this link.
How can I reduce the risks of sexually transmitted diseases and infections?
The only way you're going to avoid STIs almost completely is if you don't have sex. However, if you are or are choosing to be sexually active, we have some tips to keep you as safe as possible.
You can choose to stay with one uninfected partner. If you stay in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship in which both people only have sex with each other and neither partner is infected, then you shouldn't contract anything. Alternatively, you can avoid any type of intercourse with new partners until you have been checked over for STIs. Oral sex is less risky, but again you can use a condom or dental dam to protect yourself.
You can also choose to get vaccinated before sexual exposure to prevent certain types of STIs. You can be vaccinated for human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis A and hepatitis B. It's definitely worth checking your vaccination history with your GP and considering having these vaccinations if you have not had them as a child.
Finally, use a new latex condom each time you have sex, whether vaginal or anal. Condoms made from natural membranes are not as effective at preventing STIs, but they are better than not using one if you have a latex allergy, for example.
It's best to practice safe sex, using a condom, and if you think you might have something, get tested as soon as possible. There can be a lag between getting with someone who is infected and then showing symptoms, so it's important to keep that in mind when thinking about going to get a test done. The best thing to do is to be checked in between new partners, so you know where you stand and you're safe and healthy. This will prevent the chance that you could pick up long-term health issues or infect other people. STDs and STIs are just like any other medical issue and are nothing to be ashamed of or concerned about, providing you are careful and get checked out regularly.
Sexual Health in St Andrews
The NHS Sexual Health Clinic at St Andrews Community Hospital provides a lot of great support, including free condoms and STI testing. You can also get free condoms at Student Services at Eden Court.
At our clinic in St Andrews, we offer a full private GP service including a sexual health clinic. We can provide STI/STD testing, contraception and vaccination services on a continual or ad hoc basis. To book in for an appointment, simply follow this link or give us a buzz on 0333 577 5999 to find out more.
University of St Andrews website: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/students/advice/health/sexualhealthandcontraception/
Sexual Assault and Rape support lines: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/rape-helplines
Anything we missed? Would you like to know more? Pop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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