For sexual health week, we wanted to create a guide on STIs and give you all the information you need. Who better to ask than our friends over at Hanx.
What is an STI?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are, like you would imagine, infections transmitted via sexual contact. Often passed on unwittingly, they can become sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) if the infection causes a disease, whether treatable or not. There are more than 30 infections with the most common ones including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. Fun fact: over half a million people are diagnosed with an STI every year in the UK.
How do I get an STI?
Let’s start at the top. Literally. Forget what you heard, STIs can be spread from any form of sex, including and especially oral. We advise condom use from the start of any sexual contact as infections can be spread by bodily fluids… saliva, semen, vaginal fluids and blood. Others can simply be spread via skin-to-skin contact, like our old friends (okay, frenemies) warts and herpes. Concerned? Find more info on specific infections here.
How do I know if I have an STI?
Many common STIs and chlamydia, in particular, have no symptoms whatsoever. Nope, nothing, nada, zero, zilch… Consequently, people can be infected for long periods at a time without a clue so please don’t be complacent if you are feeling absolutely fine. Others will experience symptoms such as pelvic pain, genital itching, discharge, urinary discomfort, unscheduled menstrual bleeding, amongst others.
To diagnose an STI, you need to be seen by a healthcare specialist. This can be at your GP, sexual health clinic or gynaecologist and testing will vary depending on your symptoms and sexual history. Feeling nervous? These investigations aren’t necessarily as invasive or scary as they might sound: from peeing into a pot, to blood tests and examinations with swab testing… if there are tests you are uncomfortable taking, you won’t be forced into anything. Sexual health clinics are happy to discuss your relationship history and ask about any symptoms you may have, these clinics are all anonymous and completely non-judgemental. And as our co-founder and gynaecology doctor, Dr Sarah Welsh says, “you will never surprise a sexual health worker. Believe me.”
What happens if I don’t get treated?
First of all, most STIs are easily treatable and honestly, the sooner you get treatment, the better, as this can prevent any long-term damage. For example, if it’s chlamydia you may only require one dose of antibiotics and you’re all set! Why wait when you could sort that STI out in no time at all? Long-term infection can cause chronic pain, cervical cancer, pregnancy risks, internal scarring and infertility.
How do I protect myself and my partners?
Well, if we do say so ourselves… use a condom! Protect yourself against getting infected in the first place and use a condom. Condoms help protect against this risk in nearly every case and are an essential element in practising safe sex. Here’s our top HANX tips for staying safe and keeping those STIs at bay:
- Use condoms at the start of all sexual relationships purely for STI protection (not even considering their other uses).
- Ensure you have regular STI testing if you have new sexual partners, whatever they tell you about their sexual health status, you need to take control of your own body and ensure your own wellness.
- If you have any unusual symptoms, including genital itching, unusual discharge or urinary symptoms, be sure to have an STI check. As many STIs have no symptoms or signs, seek regular checkups anyway as with long-term sequelae including infertility, you just can’t be complacent.
Make sure to protect your sexual future, stay informed and play safe. Discover HANX sustainable sexual wellness products here.
Hello, I’m Kitten E, Education & Content Manager here at KK. I’m passionate about educating people about sex in order to remove stigmas and judgment.