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    A Guide To STI's

    Liv Surtees
     A Guide To STI's

    When was the last time you did an STI check? Do you have some uncomfortable symptoms but are too nervous to go to your sexual health clinic? Do you forget to take a moment to stop and think about STI protection before getting hot and heavy with someone?

     

    STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are infections that are spread via sexual content, including any skin-to-skin contact. From (STI) is an infection that’s spread through sexual contact. This doesn’t have to include penetration, but can be from any skin-to-skin contact.

     

    Although STIs are common and the only way to actually ensure you will never get an STI is by abstaining from sex, unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame surrounding STIs that can make it difficult for many to discuss and become informed about them. However, without the knowledge of STIs and how you can actively prevent the likelihood of getting an STI, you are putting yourself at risk of developing one.

     

    So, the only solution is to learn about the world of STIs and in doing so, let’s try to break down the idea that STIs are taboo or inappropriate to talk about: after all, they’re just like any other infection that we might have! 

     

    Welcome to your guide to STIs. Let’s dive straight in.

     

     

    How Common Are STIs?

     

    In 2019 in the UK (since the pandemic killed off quite a lot of our casual sex lives in 2020), there were over 460,000 diagnoses of STIs made. Chlamydia is the most diagnosed STI in the UK, with 229,213 being diagnosed with it in 2019 (making it count for nearly half of all STI diagnoses in the UK that year).

     

    Looking at data from the US, almost 20 million new STI cases are diagnosed each year. The most common STI in the US is HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

     

    As mentioned briefly above, unless you are completely abstaining from any kind of sexual contact, you can’t 100% guarantee that you will not get an STI. Therefore, if you are having sex, you are at risk of getting an STI.

     

    There are also instances where you will be more at risk of getting an STI, these include:

     

    • Having casual sex or sex with multiple partners.
    • Sex workers and people paying for sex workers.
    • Men having sex with men.
    • People that use intravenous drugs.
    • People from specific countries or places (or those who have had sex with people from or within that places) with high STI rates.

     

    To find a full list of people who are more at risk of getting STIs so need to take more careful about taking preventative measures before engaging in sexual contact, click here.

     

     

    How Often Should You Get Checked for STIs?


    The regularity of sexual health checks depends on how often you have with new partners. For example, if you have a regular committed partner, you may want to only get checked once a year. However, if you are engaging in casual sex with multiple partners, you should get a sexual health checkup at least every 3 months.


    A great general rule of thumb to use is to make sure you have a sexual health checkup and get tested for STIs before and after you get a new partner. Of course, you should still use protection and preventive measures to reduce your risk of STIs, even if you’re doing this, but you will still know that you are going into this new sexual relationship as healthy as possible and without any STIs.


    Obviously, if you are getting sexual health checkups, your partners should also be doing the same. It is definitely a wise idea to ask your partner for their sexual health history, or at least ask when they last got an STI test and sexual health checkup. After all, it takes two (or more) to tango, and all partners involved need to take responsibility for their own health and the health of others.

     

     

    The Most Common STIs: Symptoms and Treatment


    Using data from 2020, we’re going to take a look at the 4 most common STIs in the UK, the symptoms, and how they are treated.


    Although we are only taking a look at the most common STIs in the UK, it’s important to note that if you have absolutely any concerns with your sexual health, no matter how big or small, you should always head to your doctor or sexual health clinic for medical advice, support, and guidance. After all, you know your body best, and if something feels off, you have a duty to yourself to go and get it checked out!

     

    Chlamydia

    With 161,672 diagnoses in 2020, chlamydia comes in at the top spot for the most common STI in the UK. Chlamydia is transmitted through any and all types of sexual contact. 

     

    Chlamydia is often symptomless, which is why it’s so important to get regularly tested. However, if it’s not symptomless, symptoms of chlamydia include:

     

    • Pain when urinating.
    • Abnormal vaginal discharge.
    • Pain during sex
    • Bleeding after sex and/or bleeding in between periods.

    Chlamydia is one of the easiest STIs to be treated, as long as it is caught early, with prescription antibiotics. However, if chlamydia goes untreated, it can cause damage to the reproductive system. 

     

    Gonorrhoea

    With 57,084 diagnoses in 2020, gonorrhoea is the second most common STI in the UK. Gonorrhoea is spread through sexual contact with the genitalia, anus, or mouth of an infected person.

     

    Similar to chlamydia, gonorrhoea is often symptomless (half of women and 1 in 10 men have no symptoms), which is again why it’s so important to get regularly tested. However, if it’s not symptomless, symptoms of gonorrhoea include:

     

    • Thick, coloured discharge from the vagina, penis, or sometimes anus.
    • Greater frequency and/or urgency of urination.
    • Pain when urinating.
    • Itching and soreness in or around your anus.
    • Bleeding after sex and/or bleeding in between periods.

    Gonorrhoea can be treated with antibiotics but if left untreated can cause infections in the blood.

     

    Genital warts

    With 27,473 diagnoses in 2020, genital warts are the third most common STI in the UK. Genital warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV, including n by vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and sharing sex toys.

     

    Unlike chlamydia and gonorrhoea, genital warts have specific symptoms since they are visible warts (unless they are within the vagina or cervix). Symptoms of gonorrhoea include:

     

    • Skin-coloured or white-coloured bumps on the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, scrotum, or anus.
    • Warts that are itchy or painful.
    • Itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus (including bleeding after sex).

    Genital warts are treated differently depending on where the warts are and their severity. Treatments include creams, freezing, and even surgery to remove the warts. There’s actually no cure for genital warts since it’s HPV, but your body can clear the virus over time. 

     

    Herpes

    With 20,530 diagnoses in 2020, herpes is the fourth most common STI in the UK. Herpes is caused by either the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 or type 2: HSV-1 is transmitted by oral contact and causes infection in or around the mouth (such as cold sores), but may also cause genital herpes and HSV-2 is normally transmitted sexually and causes genital herpes.

     

    Essentially, herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has herpes, such as contact with the infected area, such as the genitalia or mouth.

     

    Herpes is often asymptomatic, however, symptoms of herpes (or symptoms of a herpes flare-up) include: 

     

    • Pain or itching in the genitals or anus.
    • Abnormal vaginal discharge.
    • Small red bumps or white blisters.
    • Ulcers.
    • Scabs.

    There’s no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications can help reduce the symptoms of herpes and flare-ups.

     

     

    How To Prevent STIs


    With almost everything, but especially when it comes to STIs, prevention is better than cure. Therefore, make sure you’re preventing the likelihood of getting an STI!


    You can do this quite simply: practice safe sex. 


    Make sure you are using condoms for STI protection (as well as for birth control), get tested regularly, it's important have open and honest conversations with your partner(s) about sexual health, and be aware and able to take note of any changes to your sexual health over time.



    The Takeaway: Safety Is Sexy

     

    Sexual health is just as important as other aspects of our health, so we need to prioritise it! Therefore, this doesn’t just mean being aware of STIs and symptoms to look out for, but it also means taking active steps towards taking care of your sexual health, such as getting regularly checked for STIs and practising safe sex.


    So, let’s start taking better of ourselves, sexually.

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