Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) don’t regularly pop up in conversation. You may not have mentioned them since those awkward Sex Education lessons at school – so here is a quick refresher – 5 things everyone should know about STIs.
1. Anyone can get an STI
You don’t need to have had a lot of sexual partners to get an STI. If you are sexually active, even if you’ve only had sex once, you can be at risk. STIs don’t discriminate – it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are, where you live - STIs can be passed from person to person through vaginal, anal and oral sex, genital contact and by sharing sex toys1. Anyone can get an STI.
2. Using a condom is the best way to help protect against STIs
The only method of contraception that can help protect against STIs are condoms. Whilst they can’t stop all infections - they are the best way to help prevent many infections from being passed on through sex3.
To help protect against STIs during oral sex, a dam (a square piece of latex or polyurethane) can be used as a barrier between the mouth, vagina or anus.
Whilst talking about using condoms with a partner can be difficult, the more you talk about sex and condoms in your relationship the more comfortable it will feel.
3. Most STIs can be effectively treated (but act quickly!)
Prevention is best when it comes to STIs, but there are many effective treatments, especially if they are started ASAP.
Act quickly because if they are left untreated, many STIs can become painful, uncomfortable and can be passed on to someone else.
Antibiotics can help in the treatment of infections like chlamydia and medicines can help reduce the symptoms of other STIs, like herpes4. Viruses such as genital herpes and HIV can be treated to reduce symptoms but will never leave the body.
4. Testing can be free, quick and easy
The best place to get tested is at your doctor5. It is important to keep in mind that for many services you’ll need an appointment so visit their website or give them a call first.
The good news is if you have a Medicare Card most doctors can bulk bill, meaning getting an STI test is absolutely free6. Just make sure to bring your Medicare Card to present to the doctor.
If you’re embarrassed about raising the conversation with your doctor, why not bring it up when you’re visiting them for something else, such as an injury. While you’re still in your appointment say something like: I know I came here to talk about my sore shoulder, but I‘d also like to get an STI test too. Any results from STI testing are kept totally confidential.
STI testing for both men and women can be as simple as giving a urine sample, having blood taken, using a swab on the genital area or having a physical examination. If a swab is needed, some services will even offer you the option of using it yourself.
5. STIs aren’t always obvious – but you can still pass them on
When you think about STIs, lumps, bumps or rashes might come to mind. However, in many cases STIs don’t have any symptoms at all. This means you can’t rely on waiting for an obvious sign or symptom to get tested and you can still pass them on unknowingly.
70-80% of women and 50% of men with chlamydia will not have any symptoms or they may be so mild they are not noticeable 7
Even if your partner doesn’t have an STI and you don’t have symptoms you could have contracted an infection from a previous sexual partner without knowing. The only way to know for certain if you have an STI is to get tested. Even if you don’t believe you’ve taken a risk, having a regular check-up is a good habit to get into.
- 1. NSW Health. The ABCs of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
- 2. Kirby Institute. HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia: annual surveillance report 2017. Sydney: Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney; 2017.
- 3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013. Condoms Fact Sheet in Brief.
- 4. NSW Health 2017. Treatment for STIs.
- 5. NSW Health 2017. How to Book Your STI Test.
- 6. NSW Health 2017. How Much Does STI Testing Cost?
- 7. Health Direct 2017. Chlamydia.