Sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), also called sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), are infections that are passed from person to person through sexual contact. HIV is an STD. There are more than 25 other sexually transmitted infections that are mainly spread by sexual contact, such as vaginal, anal, and through oral sex.
Many people with sexually transmitted infections do not have any symptoms and are therefore often unaware of their ability to pass the infection on to their sexual partner(s).
If left untreated, sexually transmitted infections can cause serious health problems including cervical cancer, liver disease, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and pregnancy and fertility problems. Having some STD’s (such as chancroid, herpes, syphilis, and trichomoniasis) can increase the risk of your getting HIV if you are HIV negative and become exposed to HIV. People living with HIV may also be at greater risk of getting or passing on other STD’s. If and when people living with HIV get STD’s, they can experience more serious problems from sexually transmitted infections or have greater difficulty getting rid of sexually transmitted infections.
In the US, about 20 million new infections occur each year. Half of these occur among American young people (15 to 24 years old), who are more at risk for STD’s than older adults. In a publication from 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that for the first time since 2006, the number of people who got chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis (the three core nationally reportable STD’s) increased. Despite being only a small proportion of sexually active people overall, young people accounted for approximately two thirds of all new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea.
There are several reasons why this is the case, especially for teenage girls and young women. The cervix (passage between the vagina and womb) in adolescents and young women is lined with cells that are more likely to become infected with STD’s. Moreover, teenagers and young women may have problems obtaining the information and supplies they need to avoid STD’s. They may also have trouble securing STD prevention services because they do not know where to find them, do not have transportation to get there, or cannot pay for them. Even if teenagers and young women can get STD prevention services, they may not feel comfortable in places designed for adults. They may also have concerns about confidentiality.
High rates of STD’s among women of color are the result of several factors, including higher rates of poverty, less access to health care, and an already high rate of STD’s in communities of color. This already high rate of STD’s increases the risk of getting an infection each time a woman has sex because she is more likely to have sex with an infected person within her community.
Regardless of race or age, less than half of those who should be tested for sexually transmitted infections receive STD screening. This is especially important for women, since women suffer more frequent and more serious complications from STD’s than men.
Many people who have an STD do not even know it. They may look healthy but still have an STD. The only way to know for sure is to get tested and engage in regular sexual health screenings by your health care provider. In San Juan County, you can find free STD screening sites by looking here.
Fortunately, you can reduce your chances of getting many sexually transmitted infections by practicing safer sex. Most STD’s, though not all, can be successfully cured through treatment. For other STD’s, there are effective medications that can help you manage your condition.
Sexually transmitted diseases caused by viruses can be treated and managed with medication, but medication does not clear them from your body. These viruses include HIV, herpes, HPV, and hepatitis B. If you have one of these STD’s, you may be wondering about how this will affect your sex life. Some common concerns include how to manage symptoms and how to talk to partners. Some people feel sad, angry, fearful, or uncertain about what this will mean for them. If you are having some of these concerns or feelings, it can help to get more information and find emotional support from our forum or our Q&A.
As stated above, STD’s can be passed to a partner even when you don’t have any symptoms. Some STD’s, such as herpes and genital warts, are passed by skin to skin contact. While external (male) condoms provide good protection against these infections, they don’t cover all areas. Barriers, such as dental dams or internal (female) condoms, can cover a larger area.
When, if, and how you tell partners about having an STD is usually a personal choice. While it may be hard to talk about having an STD, you must realize that it is important for your partner’s health. Some untreated STD’s can cause serious health problems. Telling a partner that you have an STD can be difficult, but it can also be a chance to talk about safer sex. It can show your partner you care about his/her health and allow one to think about how to protect oneself. If you choose not to tell your sexual partner(s), then having safer sex can lower the risk of passing on the STD. If you think you may have passed an STD to your partner, there are some different ways that you can let them know.
If you have HIV, under criminal law, you could be charged for not telling your partner before having penetrative sex or oral sex, or other activities that could expose him/her to HIV.
If your partner has told you that he/she has an STD, you may have a lot of questions about what this means for you. Some things you can do for yourself and your partner are: