The ten most frequently asked questions about sexually transmitted infections
- What is an STI?
- How common are STIs?
- How dangerous are STIs?
- What’s the difference between an STI and an STD?
- What types of STIs are there?
- How do you catch an STI?
- Can I catch an STI through oral sex?
- How can I tell if I have caught an STI?
- How are STIs treated?
- How can I protect myself from an STI?
STIs, or sexually transmitted infections, are infections that are spread from one person to the next through sexual activity. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of catching an STI.
The number of people infected with STIs has been gradually rising since the early 1990’s and has become a big public health concern. It’s estimated by the WHO that roughly 340 million cases of curable sexually transmitted infections occur annually all over the world, but the numbers may be much higher, as many of the infections don’t cause a person to display any symptoms until much later on. It is believed that as many as 70% of women and 50% of men with an infection don’t know they have it.
The majority of sexually transmitted infections can be treated and cured by simply taking a short course of antibiotics. There are, however, infections that can be dangerous to your health and can cause complications if left untreated.
Although there is more emphasis placed on the recognition and treatment of gonorrhoea and chlamydia in Europe, there is still the very real threat of HIV; one of the most dangerous STIs. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system so that you are more susceptible to developing other diseases, and as your immune system is impaired, it’s more difficult for you to fight it. Although HIV is incurable, it can be treated and managed.
The difference between a sexually transmitted disease and a sexually transmitted infection lies in what is considered a disease or an infection. You have an STI when you’ve been infected with a virus or bacteria and you are not yet displaying symptoms. You have an STD if you are displaying symptoms. However, the term STI can be used to describe both; in other words, all STDs are STIs but not all STIs are STDs.
The most common infections that affect people in Europe are:
- Genital warts
- Genital herpes
- Public lice
STIs are mostly spread from one person to another through sexual contact, usually by exchanging bodily fluid, be it during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Some types can be spread through non-sexual contact, but this is rare.
Yes. In fact, it is one of the most common ways STIs are passed on. Sexually transmitted infections can be passed on through oral sex, as it involves coming in contact with another person’s body fluid.
If you think that you may be experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, there is no need to panic, as most STIs can be cured with the right treatment. This is why it’s important to get yourself tested as soon as possible. If you think that you may have an STI and you aren’t experiencing any symptoms, you should still get yourself tested, even just as a precautionary measure, as it’s common for STIs not to show symptoms. Around 70% of women and 50% men don’t know that they have an STI.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s worth taking a test and speaking to your doctor straight away: pain when urinating; itching, burning or tingling around the genitals; blisters, sores, spots or lumps around the genitals or anus; and black powder or tiny white dots in your underwear.
Most bacterial STIs can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics are available in either a one-off treatment or a course, depending on the cause of the infection. Viral STIs like HIV and genital herpes can’t be cured, but there are treatments that can help you manage it, so that the symptoms don’t become too bothersome.
STIs are mostly spread by coming in direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid, so using a barrier contraceptive like a condom can provide the most effective protection. However, condoms don’t provide 100% protection from STIs and the only way to be completely safe is to abstain. But if you choose to be sexually active, make sure that you use a condom with each new partner.