Here are some common STIs that should be on your radar screen:
- Chalmydia: Chlamydia is the #1 STI in the United States. It is a bacterial infection that is passed during sexual contact and can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eye, or throat. The good news? Chlamydia can easily be cured with antibiotics. The bad news? Many teens don’t know they have it because it usually has no symptoms. If left untreated, it can cause serious health problems. You can use condoms to reduce your risk of getting chlamydia.
- Crabs: These little blood-sucking bugs nest in pubic hair and cause a lot of itching. No contraception on the market right now will protect you from crabs. You can get them just by touching or being close to someone who has them—even if you don’t have sex! They can actually jump from one person’s pubic hair to another’s and you can also can get them by sleeping in a bed, wearing clothes, or sitting on a toilet seat that crabs have infected. Totally treatable.
- Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea—a.k.a “the clap”—is caused by bacteria that grows and multiplies easily in the warm, moist areas of your body, including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, anus, mouth, throat, and eyes. Gonorrhea is pretty serious; if it isn’t treated, it can lead to sterility, arthritis, ectopic pregnancy, and heart problems. More than 600,000 new cases of gonorrhea are reported every year in the U.S. but the good news is that Gonorrhea is easy to treat with antibiotics. Condoms help protect against gonorrhea.
- Herpes: Herpes is a very common infection caused by two types of viruses that can affect your mouth (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes). Herpes is very easy to catch and can spread through touching, kissing, and/or sex with an infected person. Brief skin-to-skin contact is all that’s needed to pass the virus and there’s no cure for it—once you have it, you’ll have it forever (although there are some treatments out there to help you manage your symptoms). The most common symptom of genital herpes is a cluster of blistery sores but there are actually millions of people who do not know they have herpes because they’ve never had the symptoms. It’s crucial that, if you’re going to have sex, you know your partner’s history and use condoms every time you have sex (condoms can help prevent the spread of the disease).
- HIV/AIDS: HIV is passed to sex partners through blood, semen, seminal fluid (pre-cum), and vaginal fluids. You can get HIV from direct contact, like having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or sharing injection drug needles and syringes. Sometimes there are no signs of HIV at first—you might not know for sure that you’ve been infected until you get a blood test. Also, many people with HIV look healthy, but they can still transmit HIV. There is no cure, but treatments can help people with HIV/AIDS live for many years. Condoms offer protection against HIV, which is most often spread through unprotected sex.
- HPV/Genital warts: HPV—the human papilloma virus—affects millions of teens and is spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A few types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer and other genital cancers and a few types can lead to genital warts. There is currently no treatment to cure HPV itself. Fortunately, there’s an HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and the types that cause most cases of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective if you get it before you become sexually active.
- Syphilis: Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria that is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis is especially contagious in the early stages of the disease, when sores are present. Even though it is curable with antibiotics, if syphilis isn’t treated, it can cause serious damage to your brain, heart, nervous system, and eventually lead to death.
For more information on these STIs and to learn about other ones not on our list, check out the American Social Health Association’s iwannaknow.org.
What’s your status?
If you are sexually active or have been in the past, do you know your STI status? Learn more about testing and find a testing center near you.
This is a great introduction to some of the most common STIs, & hopefully we’ll be expanding on this is our series of posts on STIs & STDs soon. If you’re in the UK & want to get tested, you can go to your GP or visit a sexual health or GUM clinic - you can find your nearest one here.