STIs are infections that are transmitted by sexual contact. They have different causes, symptoms, and ways of treating them. There are things you can do to try and prevent STIs, and if you’ve had sex, it’s important to test for STIs even if there are no immediate symptoms. The health impacts of STIs can be managed, so if you’ve had sex you should visit a health professional to get checked out.
- You want to learn about STIs
- You want to learn about the causes of STIs
- You want to learn about the symptoms of STIs
- You want to learn about sexual health tests
What’s an STI?
Any infection you get from sex is known as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Chlamydia? STI. Herpes? STI. HIV, genital warts, hep b, gonorrhoea, syphilis and pubic lice? All STIs. They’re caused by bacteria, fungus or viruses, and are all treated differently.
STIs are passed between people through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and other body fluids that are shared during oral, vaginal or anal sex.
You can be cured of most STIs, but with some like HIV and herpes, you’ve got the virus forever. However, if you have one of these lifelong STIs, a lot of the symptoms can be treated.
What do STIs do?
STIs can cause pain, discomfort and period problems. If they aren’t treated, some STIs can cause other long term physical health issues, such as problems having kids.
Common signs of an STI include:
- Burning when you pee
If you have any of these symptoms, visit a doctor.
With some STIs, people don’t always show symptoms, but the STI will still be causing harm to your body if it’s not treated. This means that if you’re having sex, you should have regular sexual health checks (you can ask your doctor for more info). They’re usually pretty quick and can be done relatively easily. There’s no way to tell for sure if the person you’re having sex with has an STI.
How can I avoid STIs?
Safe sex – stuff like using condoms, water-based lube and dental dams will make it far less likely you’ll get an STI. But sometimes these contraceptive methods break, don’t cover the affected area, or get flipped over. Sexual activities that can’t give you STIs include massages, touching, kissing and mutual masturbation.
Getting regular sexual health checks every year if you’re sexually active is a good idea. You do this by going to a doctor or medical centre and saying, ‘I’d like a sexual health test’. In most cases doctors will keep information about your visit private from parents/carers, however there are some exceptions to this. Check out the ‘Confidentiality and age‘ fact sheet for more info.
During a sexual health check, a clinician may take some blood, ask you to pee in a cup, and perform a visual or physical examination of your genitalia. You’ll get the results a few weeks later. Women should have a pap smear every two years as well- being sexually active can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer. Check out ‘About Sexual Health‘ for more info on sexual health checks.
If you’ve had sex, you should test for and treat STIs, even if you haven’t got any symptoms, because they can still cause damage. For example, chlamydia often doesn’t have symptoms, but if you leave it untreated, it can still lead to long-term problems. Treatments for STIs are often like treatment for many other conditions and can consist of things like creams and antibiotics.
Getting help with STIs
A doctor, nurse or other health professional is the best person to treat an STI. The sooner you get an STI identified and treated, the easier its symptoms will be to manage, so it’s worth visiting your GP if you are worried that you might have an STI, or if you’ve had sex in the past.