Thinking about sexually transmitted infections can put something of a downer on sex lives, and those in long term relationships may not even believe it is something they need to worry about. Yet the reality is that the possibility of diseases and infections is a big part of sex for both men and women, In fact, most people who have been sexually active have had an STI at some point in their lives, even if they have never realised it as they have never suffered from any symptoms.
Knowledge is vitally important to sexual health, and while it is a good idea to recognise symptoms, many STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes may not always be noticeable. It is important to be tested on a frequent basis in order to protect both yourself and your partner. The good news is that the great majority of STIs are treatable and largely curable in the 21st century.
The most commonly reported STI in the United Kingdom is chlamydia, which is primarily spread by anal or vaginal sex, although it is possible to contract the infection via oral sex as well. Only around half of all men and a quarter of all women will suffer symptoms from a chlamydia infection, though those symptoms can include pain or a burning sensation during urination, or a strange discharge from the penis or vagina. Bacteria are responsible for chlamydia, which means that it can be treated with the use of antibiotics. It is advisable to get another test three months after treatment, even in the event that your partner has also received treatment.
HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
Almost everyone who is sexually active is likely to contract HPV at one time or another, with more than forty different kinds able to be transmitted via sexual activity such as anal, oral or vaginal sex. Even skin to skin contact can spread the infection. Happily most forms of HPV are not harmful, and do not even have any symptoms, with the body able to eventually get rid of the infection without the need for medical assistance. However, some forms of HPV can cause genital warts, while others result in infections in the throat and mouth. Cancer of the cervix, mouth, penis and throat are even possible consequences of some types of HPV.
These cancers can be protected against by three vaccines, with anal cancer, genital warts and vaginal cancer protected against by the Gardasil and Gardasil-9 vaccines. Experts advise young men between the ages of 11 and 21, and young women between the ages of 11 and 26 to be vaccinated for HPV. HPV-caused cervical cancers in women can also be caught early on with a pap smear.
Gonorrhoea is another common form of bacterial STI and can also be treated with antibiotics. It is often contracted at the same time as chlamydia, and causes similar symptoms such as an unusual discharge from the penis or vagina, and pain or burning sensations while urinating. Only around twenty percent of women experience symptoms with gonorrhoea, though nearly all men do.
Syphilis is a complicated infection that goes through various stages. A sore is the primary symptom during the first stage, which can sometimes be mistaken for a harmless bump, an ingrown hair or a cut. A rash on the body begins the second stage, followed by sores that can appear anywhere from the anus and vagina to the mouth. The third stage usually sees symptoms disappear, and this latent stage can last for many years or even permanently. The final stage of syphilis causes nerve and organ problems and even brain damage, though just fifteen percent of individuals who fail to get treatment for syphilis will ever develop this stage. Antibiotics can treat syphilis, and fewer antibiotics will be required the earlier treatment begins.
Genital herpes can be caused by either the HSV-1 or HSV-2 herpes strain, but the latter is usually the cause. Skin to skin contact can be all it takes to contract herpes, the primary symptom of which is painful blisters close to the anus, penis or vagina or even inside them, although not all sufferers will get blisters. Herpes cannot be cured as it is a virus, but it can be managed with medication.
Other common STIs include trichomoniasis, which is the result of a small parasite, and HIV/AIDS, which is passed by bodily fluids.