A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection that’s passed from person to person during sexual activity. Some of the STIs you might have heard of include:
- human immunodeficiency virus
- human papilloma virus (HPV) and genital warts
- genital herpes
- hepatitis B
- pubic lice
STIs are caused by organisms like viruses, fungi, bacteria or parasites. Different types of STIs need different kinds of treatment. Many are easily treated, like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, but some (like HIV and herpes) are incurable. This means you can treat some of the symptoms, but you can’t remove the virus from your system. If untreated, some STIs can cause problems with menstruation, pelvic pain and infertility.
You can avoid an STI by keeping a few things in mind.
How do you catch one?
During vaginal, anal or oral sex, STIs can be transmitted through the exchange of blood, semen and vaginal fluids, or through skin contact.
Can I protect myself?
Only total abstinence from sex offers 100% protection from STIs. However, in most cases you can avoid contracting them by practicing safe sex. Massage, touching, kissing and mutual masturbation are ways to get sexual that don’t involve contact with (or exchange of) body fluids.
Condoms are the best protection from STIs. If you’re having vaginal, oral, or anal sex, it’s important to use one every time. If you choose to use lubricant, always use a water-based product like KY Jelly, because using moisturiser, body lotion or Vaseline can cause the condom to break.
Note: Condoms will not protect you from some STIs like herpes and HPV, because the condom may not cover the infected area.
How can I tell if I have one?
Often you can’t tell. Some people have no symptoms at all, while others can experience several. Different types of STIs have different symptoms. Some common symptoms:
- a burning sensation when you urinate,
- sores on the genitals.
Can you tell if someone else has an STI?
No, you can’t always tell. The only way to know for sure is if they have an STI check.
What to do if you think you might have one
The easiest way to find out if you have an infection is to get tested. It’s a good idea to have regular sexual health check-ups every year once you start having sex or change sexual partners. Women over the age of 25 should have a cervical smear every two years to screen for cell changes on the cervix. See your sexual health for more details.
Most local GPs offer sexual health checks but there will be a charge. In some public STI clinics, an STI test is free. Look for your nearest STI clinic at Think Contraception.
Will an STI go away by itself if you don’t get it treated?
Most STIs can be quickly and effectively taken care of with medical treatment. If untreated, they can affect your reproductive organs, which can lead to infertility. A good example of this is chlamydia, the most common STI among young people. Chlamydia can be difficult to diagnose as often there are no symptoms of the infection.
If you go to a clinic, will the doctor tell your parents?
According to the law, you can request and receive medical care for yourself once you’re 16-years-old. At the sexual health clinic, the information you give the staff is completely confidential. It can’t be shared with your parents or people you know, unless the law requires staff to do so. An example of this would be if health staff thought you were at risk of serious harm. In this case the clinic is required to report this to the duty social worker in the Health Service Executive (HSE). Another example is if your files are required in a court case.
For more details on STIs or on having an STI test, see Think Contraception.
This content was adapted from ReachOut.com