Sexual Health/Sexually Transmitted Diseases
NOTICE: While this page in a good attempt at basic information, it is in no way completely accurate nor inclusive of all essential information for those seeking generalized information on sexually transmitted diseases. For example, while oral sex is mentioned, the oral transmission route via saliva and throat tissue is not indicated in the very first paragraph, only semen or vaginal secretions.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) are diseases that can be passed between sexual partners via semen or vaginal secretions. Some of the most common or famous STDs include HIV, Herpes, and Gonorrhea. Many STDs can be transmitted through oral and anal sex, as well as vaginal intercourse.
Having only one sexual partner, usually for the rest of your life. Marriage is typically monogamous.
As their name implies, the primary method for contracting an STD is through unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected partner. For this reason, sexual partners should be tested to ensure that they are not infected, and therefore do not pose an infection risk to their partners. Being in a faithful, monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is a good way to avoid STDs. Keep in mind that a person might be infected with an STD and not know about it. It is important, therefore, that couples should get tested for STDs.
Avoiding sexual contact, for health or moral reasons, typically until marriage.
The only 100% way to avoid sexual transmission of an STD is abstinence. However, condoms offer good protection from most STDs. Cervical barriers such as diaphragms may offer some protection from STDs, but not as good as condoms. Other methods of birth control do not offer any protection from STDs.
STDs may also be contracted in non-sexual ways. The child of an infected mother might contract the infection during childbirth or breastfeeding. STDs can also be transmitted directly by blood. People who use intravenous drugs, such as heroin, can pass STDs on infected needles. All blood transfusions are tested for STDs, and infected blood is discarded, but infected transfusions have transmitted in the past. People who are very recently infected may test (falsely) negative for the disease, and should retest themselves after a period of some weeks.
There are many different STDs in this world. Some STDs can be cured with treatment. Some STDs cannot be cured, but can be managed with treatment. Some STDs cannot be cured, and are fatal.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or "HIV" is one of the most well-known STDs, and certainly one of the most dangerous. HIV is caused by a virus, and there is no known cure. HIV attacks the immune system, making the victim prone to infections. When the Immune system is destroyed by the HIV, the person is said to have Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or "AIDS". HIV can be helped with medicine, but it is almost always a death sentence in the long run. HIV can be transmitted through sex, direct blood contact, and through contact with other infected fluids. HIV can be passed in a number of ways besides sexual contact, such as birth (from the mother to the child), or through sharing intravenous needles. People who are virgins, or who have previously engaged in safe sex practices may still be infected with HIV.
When it was first discovered, HIV was predominant in gay men, but recently it has been infecting homosexual and heterosexual people equally. HIV can be transmitted easily through anal and vaginal sex, and not as easily through oral sex. HIV is a large problem in the developing world, and is a growing problem everywhere else. Here are some facts about HIV:
- HIV currently is not curable, but is treatable—to a degree—with medication.
- There is no vaccine for HIV.
- HIV infects people equally well, regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
- 1 in 4 people who have HIV don't know they are infected.
- HIV causes AIDS.
- HIV has no visual symptoms. It is impossible to tell if a person has HIV by their appearance.
- HIV can be spread by any transmission of infected bodily fluids. Unprotected sex, sharing of intravenous needles, and other contact between bodily fluids can transmit the disease.
- People who have multiple sexual partners, or who frequently engage in unprotected sex are at high risk for contracting and spreading HIV.
If you suspect you may have been exposed to HIV, or if you are not certain, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the most common STD. It, like HIV, is a virus that can be transmitted through sex, blood, and other direct fluid contact. Unlike HIV, herpes isn't fatal, nor does it reduce the effectiveness of the immune system.
Herpes causes occasional outbreaks known as cold sores, which are open sores on the skin in the area of the original infection. People with herpes are especially capable of transmitting the disease during an outbreak, but it is possible to transmit herpes even when there is no outbreak at all. Herpes can be treated with medicine, but cannot be cured.
11% of women and 23% of men carry HSV-2, the type that most commonly causes genital cold sores. Up to 90% of people test positive for HSV-1, the type that most commonly causes oral cold sores. Because it is so common, most doctors do not test for it unless the patient is complaining of an outbreak (to confirm the diagnosis), or specifically asks to be tested for herpes.
HPV (human papilloma virus) is also a virus. There are many different strains of HPV. Some strains cause unsightly warts to form on the genitals. Other strains cause cervical cancer in women - this is why it is important for sexually active women to have regular pap smears to test for precancerous cervical cells.
While a person's immune system may fight off the viral infection, there is no treatment for HPV. Warts may be removed by a doctor if they are bothersome. There is now a vaccine for HPV that is available to women.
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia
These are bacteria infections that are transmitted through sex. They may also infect other locations, such as the eye or throat. Like all bacterial infections, they may be treated with antibiotics.
The most common symptom is none at all, especially in women. In people who do have symptoms, painful urination is the most common one. In women, both gonorrhea and chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, causing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID can cause infertility and greatly increases the woman's future risk for ectopic pregnancy.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection. It has three stages. In the first stage, primary syphilis, the person develops a sore in the location where they contracted the infection. In the second stage, secondary syphilis, the person develops a distinctive rash. One feature of this rash is that it is symmetrical - if it is on the right hand, it will be on the left hand also. If it is on the right hip, it will be on the left hip, too.
Both the sore and the rash will heal on their own. Between one to ten years after infection, tertiary syphilis will begin. In this stage, tumor-like growths will begin to appear, and neurological and cardiovascular damage may occur. Syphilis is treated with antibiotics.
Pubic lice are lice that are living in the pubic hair. They are not to be confused with head lice or scabies. Pubic lice can be transmitted through direct skin contact with an infected person, clothing, furniture or bedding, but cannot be transmitted through fluids or blood.
The only way to completely protect yourself from acquiring STDs through sex is to remain abstinent. However, barrier birth control methods, such as condoms, do provide some protection, if used properly. The best ways to protect yourself from STDs are not to have unprotected sex, and not to have sex with strangers. Oral and Anal sex can transmit STDs, so protection should be used when engaging in these types of activities as well.
It is a good idea to get tested for STDs regularly if you are, or have been, sexually active. People with multiple sexual partners are at the greatest risk for contracting an STD, and then to pass on that STD to many partners. If you have unprotected sex, you should get tested immediately, and also get tested again in 6 months, to make sure. If you are infected, you should see a doctor immediately to discuss treatment options, and you should not engage in unprotected sexual intercourse again until it is deemed safe to do so (if ever).
Hospitals and primary care physicians can either perform an STD test, or can tell you where to get one. Many organizations offer free or low-cost tests for people who need them which you can find a list of here or here.
Talk With your partner
It is important to talk with your sexual partners about STDs. Many people who are infected don't know that they are infected, and some people who are infected might not mention it before sex. Women should insist that men wear condoms before having sex. It is a good idea for a woman to know the proper way to put on a condom, just in case. You should ask your partners when they were last tested, and what the results of those tests were. It is impossible to tell just by looking at a person whether they have an STD or not, so you should always talk with your partners before engaging in sexual intercourse.