Sexually transmitted infections (or diseases) are caused by viruses and most can be treated and managed with medication. While those medications can help you to control the symptoms and outbreaks of the virus, they do not clear them from your body- leaving all fully capable of transmitting to your partners. These transmittable viruses are HIV, herpes, HPV, hepatitis B, gonorrhea, syphilis, and many others.
If you are a carrier of a sexually transmitted disease you may wonder how this will affect your intimacy and sex life. The most common concerns from patients are how to manage their own symptoms, how to talk to their partners about their disease, and how to prevent spreading the disease to anyone else. This can cause great mental stress to those who struggle with STIs and can be a big blocker in relationships.
Here are a few basic things to remember about STIs:
- You can still have relationships and sex but practicing safe sex will help to reduce the chance of passing STIs to your partners.
- STIs are quite common and the majority of people who are sexually active will get one or more STIs in their lifetime; having an STI is not a reflection of the kind of person you are.
- There are medications that can help to reduce symptoms; talk to a health care provider about your options.
Sexually transmitted diseases can be passed along to your partners even when you are not showing or having any active symptoms. The most common symptoms are:
- Itching around the vagina and/or discharge from the vagina for women.
- Discharge from the penis for men.
- Pain during sex or when urinating.
- Pain in the pelvic area.
- Sore throats in people who have oral sex.
- Pain in or around the anus for people who have anal sex.
- Chancre sores (painless red sores) on the genital area, anus, tongue, and/or throat.
- A scaly rash on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.
- Dark urine, loose, light-colored stools, and yellow eyes and skin.
- Small blisters that turn into scabs on the genital area.
- Swollen glands, fever, and body aches.
- Unusual infections, unexplained fatigue, night sweats, and weight loss.
- Soft, flesh-colored warts around the genital area.
STIs: Risks, Diagnosis, Prevention
If you have ever had any type of sex or sexual act where body fluids were exposed, you are at risk for an STI. If you, or someone you have been with, have also been with multiple other partners- you are at a higher risk for getting an STI. Most STIs can be diagnosed by visiting your medical doctor, where an exam and a test on various bodily fluids (blood, skin, semen, vaginal secretions) can determine which infection you may be dealing with.
The only true way to prevent STIs is to not have sexual intercourse, or sex acts where bodily fluids could be transferred. You should always use condoms or other forms of protection when having any type of penetrative sex- male or female.
Male latex condoms do reduce the risk of getting an infection when they are used correctly. They should be used every time you have sex. Female condoms are not as effective as male condoms but can still be useful in the reduction of getting an infection. Condoms are never one-hundred percent safe. They cannot protect you from having skin-on-skin contact with open sores or warts. Spermicide gels or creams do not prevent STIs and should not be used for this reason. Here are some correct tips for using condoms:
- Slip the condom on before any contract has happened.
- Leave ½” of space in the tip of the condom when put on to the penis to make a “reservoir” where the semen can safely collect.
- Pull out after ejaculating by holding the rim of the condom to ensure it does not slip or move.
- Never re-use a condom.
- With female condoms, follow all directions on packaging specific to the condom brand you are using.
- For female condoms, guide the penis or sex toy into the condom to avoid displacing the condom in the body.
- After the sexual act, remove the condom before standing up or moving around by pulling it out.
- Do not reuse female condoms.
Discussing STIs with your Partner(s)
While it is a personal choice to tell your partner or others about your STIs, it is vitally important to help end the spread of whichever STI you are facing. Not only is it important for your health to take care of your STI appropriately, it is also important that your partner know and understand the risks of being intimate with you.
It can be extremely difficult to tell your partner(s) about your STI, but it can also act as an open door to help bring the topic of safe sex and protection to light in your relationship. Not only does it show that you are honest and dependable, but that you are invested in your relationship and your partner’s health. Being open and honest and having safe sex lowers the risk of transmission to your partner(s).
With certain STIs like HIV, it is a criminal offense if you do not disclose your status to any partner you have. This is true for any type of penetrative sex, oral sex, or any other act where bodily fluids are exposed or can be exchanged.
If your partner has an STI you probably have many questions about what this means for you, and your relationship. It is okay to have and ask questions in a respectful and appropriate manner. Things that you might do for yourself and your partner are:
- Get tested and treated, if need be. Treatment options will vary depending on the virus or disease present.
- Get all of the facts about the STIs you or your partner are facing.
- Explore ways to practice safe sex to reduce the risk of getting or transmitting the infection.
- Ask for more time if you are not sure what the infection is, or if you are not comfortable being intimate or having intercourse without the information you need.
- Attend a doctor’s appointment with your partner to have your questions answered by a professional.
Visiting the Doctor with an STI
This is the most important step when you or your partner has an STI, or even suspects an infection may be present. Your doctor can get you a diagnosis and treatment plan going, and let you know immediately of the risk factors and if you should, or should not be, having intercourse.
These questions can be a good starting point with your doctor to get the facts you need to know:
- Do I have a viral or bacterial STI?
- What treatment is best for me?
- Is it possible to have sex with my boyfriend/girlfriend without giving him/her my STI?
- How can I stop from getting an STI?
- If I have one STI, am I at higher risk of getting another?
- How long will my treatment last?
- Are there any side effects of my treatment?
- Are there any support groups in my area?
- If my symptoms get worse, when should I call my doctor?
If you feel hesitant to disclose your STI status, ask yourself why you are holding back. Many specialists do not recommend frivolous or extremely promiscuous sex lives for patients who have sexually transmitted infections. If disclosing this information is what is stopping you from being with your partner, it may be time to reevaluate your relationship so that all parties can be as safe as possible.