By: Silvia DiPaola, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Fauzia Haque, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief
Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as STDs, are exactly what they sound like -- infections that spread through sexual contact. You may have also heard about STIs, sexually transmitted infections; STDs and STIs are synonymous as STDs begin as STIs. According to the Office on Women's Health, nearly 20 million people in the United States get an STD each year. Interestingly, half of all new infections are among young people who are 15 to 24 years old. Thus, it is important for adolescents to be aware of the danger behind STIs.
STDs usually pass from person to person in blood, semen, or other body fluids. Thus, you can acquire an STD from vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Although STDs affect men and women, they are more concerning for women because they can cause fertility issues and/or chronic pelvic pain if left untreated. According to the Office on Women's Health, women have a higher risk than men of getting an STI during unprotected vaginal sex.
The organisms that cause STDs can be bacteria, viruses, or parasites. In particular, bacteria can cause gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. Parasites cause trichomoniasis, and viruses cause HIV. Depending on the STD, some may cause no symptoms at all. This may cause one to think they do not have an infection, which is why it is important to always get tested for STDs after unprotected sex. According to the Mayo Clinic, the general symptoms that might indicate that you have an STI include sores or bumps on the genitals or in the oral or rectal area, painful or burning urination, abdominal pain, fever, painful or frequent urination, discharge from the penis, and/or unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge. Symptoms may manifest themselves a few days after exposure, or even a few years. It all depends on the STD in question. However, women tend to mistake STD symptoms for a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection, so it is important to be aware of the aforementioned signs.
According to Mercksmanuals, risk factors of STDs include consistently having unprotected sex, having sex with multiple partners, and having a history of other STIs. However, there are several ways to reduce your risk of acquiring an STD. These include remaining with only one sexual partner, avoiding further intercourse until you have been tested for STIs, using condoms consistently, and avoiding excessive alcohol use (as to keep your judgment intact). You can get vaccinated for some STDs (hepatitis A and B and human papillomavirus), but most do not have a vaccine available. Of course, the 100% foolproof way to avoid contracting an STI is to abstain from sexual intercourse entirely.
Getting tested for STIs is called STI screening. According to the Office on Women's Health, it can involve a pelvic and physical exam (where the doctor will look for warts, rashes, or unusual discharge), a blood test, a urine test, and/or a fluid or tissue sample. You should talk to your doctor about STI testing if you are sexually active. Then, a doctor can help you treat the STI. According to MedlinePlus, bacterial and parasitic STIs can be treated with antibiotics, but viral STIs cannot be cured. They will persist for life. Antiviral drugs can help control them, but they cannot fully cure them. This is why it is crucial to do all that you can to avoid contracting STIs in the first place. Untreated STIs can cause serious problems in both men and women: infection in other parts of the body besides the genitals, organ damage, certain types of cancer, and death.
I cannot stress the importance enough of getting tested for STIs. If you feel embarrassed or think your sex life is too personal to share with your doctor, just know that the flip side of leaving an STD untreated is much worse. Keep the aforementioned symptoms in mind if you have unprotected sex, but try to always use protection during intercourse!
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