There are a lot of great things about sex. Pleasure, intimacy with a partner, procreation, and I’m sure you can think of a few more. However, all good things come with downsides, and the one I’m going to be talking about today is STIs. Whether you’ve never had one, are worried about catching one, or already have one, they are definitely something to consider if you are sexually active or thinking of becoming so. There’s a lot of information out there which can be overwhelming and of varying quality, so I thought I’d condense it down into one quick guide to STIs.
What is an STI?
A STI- sexually transmitted infection- is basically what it says on the tin- an infection or disease that can be passed on through sexual contact. They are usually passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex (although the risk is lower with the latter), but can can also be passed on via sharing sex toys or in rare cases through fingering (if someone has cuts or sores on their fingers). The old wives tale that you can catch an STI from a toilet seat is most definitely false, however you can catch herpes via kissing if one person has a cold sore, and public lice can sometimes be passed on via towels or bed linen.
Most Common STIs
The common cold of STIs, chlamydia is a bacterial infection that often has no symptoms. Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics, however can lead to health complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease if left untreated so it’s important to get tested.
Formerly known as “the clap”, gonorrhoea is caused by the bacteria neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. It is usually curable with antibiotics, but can cause complications if left untreated. However, one strain of gonorrhoea known as neisseria gonorrhoea (or “super gonorrhoea”) has developed a resistance to all antibiotics and there is no effective treatment. The Other Livvy covers this in more detail in this post.
A virus that can cause painful blisters on the genitals. There is currently no cure, but treatment can help with the symptoms.
Caused by the bacteria treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. Can be cured with a course of antibiotics, however if left untreated it can spread through the body and cause serious health problems.
5. Genital Warts
Genital warts are what they say on the tin- warts that appear on your genitals. You can get treatment from your doctor to get rid of the warts, but they may come back due to the virus.
How To Prevent STIs
Some of you may laugh, but I often think the Christian folk have it right. Abstinence can also work on a situational level- for example if you meet a hot stranger on holiday and you’re up for a night of passion but forgot to pack any condoms, it might be better just to kiss and cuddle.
In addition to preventing pregnancy, condoms (or dental dams if you are performing oral sex on a woman) are also the only way of preventing STIs during sex (pulling out doesn’t work guys). This includes oral sex- which is the tricky one as it can disrupt the experience, but there’s not really a alternative so you either have to suck it up of refer back to the first point until you’ve both been tested. Condoms can be purchased at pharmacies, supermarkets, and smaller shops, or you can get them for free at family planning clinics.
In a long-term relationship, some people prefer to go on another form of birth control so they can ditch the condoms. It’s important to both get tested before you do this though.
Girls aged 12-18 and gay men up to 45 are eligible for a vaccination against some forms of HPV on the NHS. If you are not eligible, you can pay to have the vaccine done privately at several pharmacies including LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. It is also possible to be vaccinated against hepititis B.
Where To Get Tested
If you have had unprotected sex, or have noticed some worrying symptoms, the first thing to do is to get tested. If you’re in the habit of having multiple sexual partners over time, it’s a good idea to get tested every 6 months- a year just in case, even if you don’t think you have an STI.
Sexual Health Clinics
There are various NHS-run services that run STI checks. You can find the closest one to where you live here.
Home STI Testing Kits
You can now test for STIs in the comfort of your own home thanks to STI testing kits. Various companies offer these, including LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, and they usually come in discreet packaging which comes in handy if you live with family or have nosy housemates!
You can also book an appointment with your GP and they can advise you on the next course of action.
What To Do If You Have An STI
So worst-case-scenario- you have an STI! Now what?
Well the first thing to do is gently let any previous sexual partners you have potentially passed it onto know.
The good news is that a lot of STIs are curable; if you went to a doctor or health clinic they should be able provide you with the right medication. If you got a home testing kit you may need to book an appointment with the doctor to arrange treatment, although it’s now possible to purchase medication for chlamydia over the counter.
If you’re unfortunate enough to catch an incurable STI, that’s a topic that’s a little too complex to cover fully in the scope of this article, but the NHS provides a guide on how to live with HIV here, and there are other great resources elsewhere on the internet.