Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that are transmitted from one partner to another during sexual activity. While they are most commonly transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, they can also be passed between partners through oral sex and skin-to-skin contact in some cases. STIs can be viral or bacterial in nature. Viral infections include herpes, HIV, hepatitis B, and the human papillomavirus (HPV). Common bacterial infections include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
The World Health Organization estimates that over one million new STIs are passed between sexual partners each day. It’s a staggering figure, but the good news is that there are ways to prevent the spread of STIs.
The most obvious way to avoid contracting an STI is by not having sex. Consenting adults who do engage in sexual activity should discuss their sexual history with their partners before having sex for the first time and should always use a condom during sex (including anal and oral sex).
While condoms are not 100% effective against STIs, they dramatically reduce risk when used properly. Remember that skin-to-skin contact with open sores or genital warts can occur whether using a condom or not.
The presence of a bump or sore doesn’t always indicate an STI. Other factors like acne or ingrown hair may be to blame. However, it is a best practice to consult a medical professional at the first sign of any STI symptoms.
Symptoms may include (but aren’t limited to):
- Pelvic pain
- Vaginal itching and/or discharge for women
- Penile itching and/or discharge for men
- Pain during intercourse or while urinating
- Pain in or around the anus after anal sex
- A sore throat or visible sores in the throat after oral sex
- Open sores on the genitals, tongue, or anus
- A rash on the palms or feet
- Blisters or scabs on the genital area
- Swollen glands, aches, or an unexplained fever
- Dark urine or changes in bowel function
- Visible warts on or around the genital area
STIs are diagnosed through blood tests or cultures of genital fluids. Specimens are sent to a lab for testing, after which a doctor will discuss the results and a treatment plan if needed.
Bacterial STIs are normally curable with antibiotics, although some strains are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment. Viral STIs can’t be cured, but there are medications to treat the symptoms and keep flare-ups at bay.
Prevention is the best plan of attack for STIs, followed by early diagnosis and treatment at the first sign of symptoms. Medication should be taken exactly as prescribed and for the duration of the proposed course of treatment.