Let's be honest with each other, just for a second. How many of you have had unprotected sex? And how many of you have ever been tested for a sexually transmitted infection? According to a survey carried out by the Chlamydia. Worth Talking About campaign, nine in 10 people don’t get tested for STIs before getting into a new relationship. Two thirds don’t use a condom when they have sex with a new partner for the first time. It seems like a brilliant idea at the time, obviously, but unprotected sex can lead to all kinds of stress and worry - even if it doesn't also lead to an STI.
Why is this so important? Well for starters, chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed STI among under 25s, affecting both men and women. If left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems. If sex is part of your relationship, or it’s going to be, you need to talk to your partner about how you’re going to keep yourself safe.
These conversations may seem daunting, but three quarters of 15-24 year olds actually rank discussing STI tests together as the most important indicator of a lasting relationship. A staggering 70% felt that it is the most important sign that a new relationship will last – rather than more traditional milestones such as meeting the parents!
So how do you have these chats with your partner without causing embarrassment? Dr Catherine Hood, GP and relationship expert, shared some great tips for talking about STI testing.
1. Make the first move Firstly, don’t be afraid to make the first move. Think about it as the natural next step in your relationship and not something to be feared and avoided. Choose a quiet moment – you could begin the conversation by saying something like: “As we’ve been seeing each other for a while now, there’s something I really want to talk about...”
2. Go together Suggest that you both go and get tested for STIs together and treat it as a positive step in your relationship. Share your own experiences of being tested and treated if you feel you can – it’s important that you’re as open and honest as you can be.
3. Arm yourself with the facts If your partner asks you why you’re worried about STIs, make sure you are able to tell them how common STIs are, and how some can lead to serious health problems for both of you.
4. Remember testing is easy and painless If your partner is anxious about STI testing, reassure them that there really is nothing to worry about… For example, the test for chlamydia in men is always a urine sample (pee in the pot). The chlamydia test for women can be either a urine sample or a self-taken swab of the lower vagina.
Below is basic information on some of the better known STIs. Everyone who is under 25 and sexually active is advised to get tested at least once a year, and every time they have a new partner. Take control, don’t put if off, and remember that condoms are the best way to protect against STIs. For information on STIs, chlamydia testing, contraception and all information about sexual health, visit the [www.nhs.uk/worthtalkingabout NHS sex information] site. Don't forget tests for the under 25s are free.
Chlamydia is caused by a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatis. The bacteria are found in the semen of men and vaginal fluids of women who have the infection. Chlamydia is easily passed from one person to another through unprotected sex. You can also catch it from oral or anal sex. It is the most common STI in the UK, being most common in men and women under 25.
Chlamydia is known as the ‘silent’ infection due to its lack of noticeable symptoms. 75% of women and 50& of men with chlamydia have no symptoms and so the best way to find out if you have it is to take a test.
If left untreated, chlamydia can lead to infertility, long-term pelvic pain and other serious health problems. Because chlamydia often doesn’t have any symptoms, testing is now being routinely offered to all sexually active under-25-year-olds in a range of primary care health services across England. This includes many GP surgeries, community and sexual health clinics and some community pharmacies – so if you’re offered a test, it’s important to say ‘yes’! Testing is confidential, easy and painless and chlamydia itself is easy to treat. For men, the test is always a urine sample (pee in the pot). In many areas the test for women can be either a urine sample or a self-taken swab. The swab is done yourself in private – quick, simple and painless.
It’s caused by bacteria, and it can get you in the mouth, penis, rectum, vagina or urethra. Generally a result of unprotected sex. Your fingers can transmit it, though.
Women generally get a nasty yellow/green and kind of watery discharge, and the obligatory pee-pain. Men can also get the same discharge and pain. Perhaps the grossest of all; anal itching and discharge is possible. Some get no symptoms at all and carry on having sex without knowing, therefore passing it on.
There is a risk of reduced fertility, if you’re not treated. You’ll be warned off sex until you’ve got the all-clear.
You get cold sores? That’s herpex simplex type I. What we're talking about here is a virus called simplex type II. You can get type I infections in the genital region though – so it’s best not to get friendly if your partner has a cold sore eruption. It’s also transmitted sexually, obviously.
Painful cold sores/ulcerations around your nether regions. They flare up, and seem to disappear, but once you have the virus, you are never rid of it. That’s why, if you already have it, it’s important to be responsible during your flare-ups. Symptoms that are not necessarily always present include aching, gland swelling, tiredness and flu-like symptoms, itching/tingling around the genitals, and blisters that burst to form sores.
There is not a cure per-se. There are antivirals that can slightly calm flare-ups, but prevention through using a condom is the best bet. Pregnant women with herpes can give their children potentially fatal infections through having the virus. It’s not worth risking.
The bacterium's called treponema pallidum. Remember “the pox” from history textbooks? This is it. It’s transmitted through close contact. That’s oral/anal/vaginal sex, or even touching the sores of someone who’s infected. Mother-child transmission is also wholly possible.
There are four stages to this nasty:
Symptoms can take two to six weeks to appear.
- Primary: small sores appear where the bacteria got in [so that’d be the genital area, for example. Sometimes they’re not even visible; they’re on the inside.
- Secondary: a skin rash can appear. It’s exceedingly infectious, can hold brown sores and spread from your palms to your soles. That, and there’s headaches, fever, gland swelling, wart-like growths, hair-loss… This can last about a year.
- Latent: no symptoms.
- Tertiary/Late: if the first bits didn’t put you off, try this. It can damage your brain, joints, bones, eyes, heart or nerves, leaving your paralysed, mentally ill, blind, and with heart disease. Oh yeah, and it can kill you.
Mainly blood tests for diagnosis. This, like others, can be treated effectively with some antibiotics. As with other STIs, let partners know of your infection.
HIV, as you’re well aware, doesn’t go away. Gradually, it will wear you down to a point at which your immune system gives way to AIDS defining illnesses. You’ve probably heard the spiel a million times.
Still, many of us are still members of the “promiscuous 10%”; the group that operate the “don’t ask, don’t test, don’t tell” policy.
HIV spreads in many ways, needle-sharing, mother-child etc. Here, let’s concentrate on unprotected sex. We’re all at risk, gay or hetero. Gay men are at greater risk; simply because the sexual method is more likely to give way to tearing of tissue, and therefore entry to the bloodstream. But heterosexual people are far from immune; and their infection numbers are rising alarmingly.
Most don’t present any symptoms aside from a slight “flueyness” after infection. Basically, it’s just your immune system beginning to suffer. Once compromised, you’re more susceptible to “opportunistic” infections that will start to make you feel ill. Cancers are also more likely to appear once HIV has weakened your immune system. It is when these secondary illnesses have taken hold, that AIDS is thought to have developed.
Any treatment can, at best, slow the HIV progression. The best treatment by far is prevention and awareness. Tests are done through blood tests for HIV antibodies.
Pubic lice, scabies, itch mites, crabs, whatever you want to call them, these things are nasty.
While scabies and pubic lice are slightly different, their cause is pretty much the same; sex with infected people/transmission through bedlinen/clothes/towels.
Itching, mainly. They burrow in the hairy regions under your skin, and bite the living daylights out of you. They love the groin area. They lay eggs under the skin, and they take about six to eight days to hatch. Sometimes you can see the little brown insects, or in the case of scabies, a rash.
All clothes/linen should be washed accordingly, as well as ointment being obtained from the docs to apply. No close contact until the all-clear.
There are three forms; A, B and C, each having relatively similar symptoms: fluey symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea, poor appetite, weight loss, jaundice, itchy skin. All forms are very damaging when left untreated, especially to the liver. They’re transmitted through needle sharing and obviously, unprotected sex.
If you are ever diagnosed with an STI/STD and you don’t tell your sexual partners, you SUCK. You totally suck. Yes, it’s embarrassing as hell, but when it comes to health matters, wouldn’t you rather that people were honest with you? You’re owed that, they’re owed that. You, and indeed your sexual partners have a right to know what’s going in and on with your bodies.
ALL of the above are preventable. Easily. You see so many people going crazy having missed a period after the condom split/they had unprotected sex. How many of them go for an STI test as well as their morning after pills? Think about it.
Also, you don't even have to have all/most/ANY symptoms to have these. The only way to be sure after the deed, is to be tested!