STDs mean Sexually transmitted diseases or they are sometimes called STIs which stands for Sexually Transmitted Infections.
They have been a public health concern for ages and are caused by transmission of bacteria, viruses as well as other parasites from one individual to another through body fluids, including those exchanged during sexual activity. Common STDs include herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis, and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
While some of the diseases are treatable using antibiotics, some such as HIV infection are not curable and can be fatal—and can even lead to death if left untreated. Therefore, prevention of STD infection is the most important factor in managing these infections. There are a number of measures you can put in place to drastically reduce your chances of contracting an STD.
Statistics have shown that STDs are the third most common contagious infections in the United States, with millions of new cases each year.
Transmission of STDs
Individuals with STD can transfer it to others by coming in contact with rectum, mouth, genitals, or body fluids. (In a nut shell; any individual who makes sexual contact—vaginal, anal, or oral sex—with another person stands a chance of contracting STD). Although not all individuals that come down with STD contracted it through sexual contact, (there are other ways of contracting STDs). Some STDs however, may not present with any noticeable symptom, and in cases such as this, your health may still be at risk.
Principal Causes of STDs
STDs are caused by bacterial or viral infections. STDs caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. Those caused by viruses are generally not curable, but their symptoms can be treated (palliative treatment) using various antiviral agents.
Risk factors of STDs
The following factors increase the risk of getting STDs:
- When you have more than one sexual partner
- When you have a partner, who has or has had more than one sexual partner
- Having sexual contact with someone who has an STD
- When you have an history of STDs
- Use of intravenous drugs
- Use of intravenous drugs by your partner
Some of the most common STDs include:
- Chlamydia (see FAQ071 Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis)
- Gonorrhea (see FAQ071 Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis)
- Genital herpes (see FAQ054 Genital Herpes)
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (see PFS005 Testing for Human Immunodeficiency Virus)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (see FAQ191 Human Papillomavirus [HPV] Vaccination)
- Syphilis (see FAQ071 Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis)
- Trichomoniasis (see FAQ028 Vaginitis)
- Hepatitis B (see FAQ125 Protecting Yourself Against Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C)
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Ways to reduce the risk of getting an STD
There are many ways you can reduce your risk of getting an STD:
- One of the most important thing is to know your sexual partners and limit their number—Your partner’s sexual history is as important as your own. The more partners you or your partners have, the higher your risk of getting an STD.
- Make use of a condom whenever you want to have intercourse—Using a latex condom every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex reduces your chances of contracting an infection. Frequent use of some spermicides or condoms lubricated with spermicides can increase the risk of HIV.
- Avoid risky sex practices—Sexual acts that may tear or break your skin carry a higher risk of STDs. Even very small cuts that do not bleed let germs pass back and forth. Anal sex poses higher risk because tissues in the rectum tear easily. Body fluids also can carry STDs. Having any unprotected sexual contact with an infected person poses a high risk of getting an STD.
- Get yourself immunized—Vaccinations are available that will help prevent hepatitis B and some types of HPV (see FAQ191 Human Papillomavirus [HPV] Vaccination and FAQ125 Protecting Yourself Against Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C).
STDs and pregnancy
Having an STD during pregnancy can harm the fetus. Gonorrhea and chlamydia both causes health problems in the infant ranging from eye infections to pneumonia. Syphilis on its own accord may lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. HIV infection can pass on to a baby during a vaginal birth.
If you are pregnant and you or your partner have had—or may have—an STD, inform your health care professional. Your fetus may be at risk. Tests for some STDs are offered routinely during prenatal care. It is best to treat the STD early to decrease the chances that your fetus will get the infection. You and your partner both may have to be treated.
Prevention of STDs
The interventions for preventing the spread of STDs depend on several sociocultural factors such as culture, age, employment, education, religion and gender. These factors can influence sexual conduct and therefore spread of the infections. Some of the main prevention approaches include:
1. Prevention is best
.One of the best ways to prevent transmission of STDs is to avoid sexual contact with other individuals until you are ready to get married. When this time comes, you and your partner can get necessary STD tests done to determine your sexual health status, and then make informed decisions that will affect the rest of your lives. This option actually stands as the best way out, but, from the advent of other means of contracting STDs, abstinence does not guarantee total overall safety from STDs.
2. Talk To Your Partner
Talk with your partner(s) about STDs, sexual health, and prevention prior to sexual activity. Open communication encourages trust and respect among partners and helps reduce the risks for STDs. Also, never be afraid to honestly divulge information to your healthcare provider about your sexual practices or to ask about STD tests.
The advancements in treatment research of STDs have helped to create preemptive treatments, example is seen with HIV’s PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). Communication with your doctor about PrEP may be of help and to determine whether you qualify for this prevention treatment or not.
If your partner says they have been tested, ask for which diseases. Often people are only checked for gonorrhea and chlamydia, not HIV, hepatitis, or herpes. Remember, “communication — they say— is key.”
Communication should be coupled with educating yourself, in order to understand how different STDs are really transmitted to avoid becoming a victim to any of them. If you take time to educate yourself, you’ll be aware that the Human Papilloma Virus (or HPV) cannot be tested for in men.
Contraceptives, such as, condoms provide a barrier against the contraction of STDs from an infected individual. Condoms, however, need to be used correctly and consistently before they can effectively prevent transmission. Used condoms must be removed and disposed of appropriately to prevent spread. Part of making responsible sexual choices is being prepared to enact them. It doesn’t matter if you're male or female. If you’re going to have sex with someone, you should be prepared. This is not only a matter of emotional preparation, but practicality. Bring your own safer sex supplies. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have extras. That’s much better than the alternatives. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being ready to go and having to drop everything to find a store that’s still open and selling condoms. The other alternative, going ahead without them, shouldn't even be an option.
Also, avoid making baseless assumptions and fallacies, claiming that, “one form of sex is safer than the other,” — says who? STDs can be transmitted during any type of sexual activity that involves the exchange of bodily fluids. Do not assume that one type of sex is safer than another when it comes to preventing STDs.
Safer sex, with a condom, female condom, and/or other appropriate barriers, only works if you are consistent about it. Make up your mind to have safer sex every time you have sex. If your sex life involves intercourse, anal or vaginal, determine that you'll never have sex without a condom. If you or your partner is at high risk of STDs, be consistent about barrier use (dental dams, condoms) during oral sex as well. Barriers are not 100% protective against all STDs, but they will greatly reduce your risk.
- Regular sexual health checks.
Attending a sexual health screening before engaging in sexual contact with your partner or each of your partners helps to prevent new cases of infection. It is not ideal to diagnose STDs from a symptomatic point of view—as a lot of STDs are asymptomatic until they get to a chronic/severe stage. Although, this may not always be a foolproof method since many infections may go undetected at certain periods of time, especially in the early stages.
Try to get into the habit of being tested for STDs, especially HIV a couple of times a year, this will make it possible to convince your sexual partners do the same. If you do decide to have sex with multiple partners throughout the year, then you should insist that they all take the same steps in getting tested.
Also, if you had sex with someone and start to feel flu-like symptoms soon afterwards, then get tested immediately. The newer HIV medications being used can actually help to stop the infection if it is caught soon enough. The sooner you get tested, the better your chances of stopping the infection. For other STDs also, the earlier they are caught, the better. And, if you're being treated for an STD, wait until you're done with treatment before resuming sexual activity.
By doing this, you are safeguarding your health and improving your quality of life, as well as, securing your future.
- Get vaccinated and ensure sterility with medical equipment
Examples of important vaccines now available are those offering protection against hepatitis B and some strains of human papilloma virus (HPV).
Whether you are giving yourself a shot of medication at home or getting an injection from a medical facility, always insist on making sure that the needle is sterile. Avoid previously used needles when you are injecting medication, or when you are getting medical treatment. If you are the type that love those prints on your body (tattoo), then always insist on only using a professional artist who utilizes sterilized needles.
Be selective on your sexual partners and better still— Embrace Monogamy.
When you find someone who you have strong feelings for, it is important to have an open discussion about STDs prior to having sex. If you are extremely selective about the partners you choose, then you can significantly reduce your chances of contracting STDs. One of the surest ways to prevent STDs if you want to remain sexually active is to be in a monogamous with your tested partner.
Two people who have sex only with one another don’t have any opportunity to bring a new STD into the relationship. If you and your partner have been tested and are healthy, remaining faithful to each other is a very good way to reduce your chances of contracting an STD. However, it is important to be honest with yourself about whether you and your partner are both truly faithful. If you are always consistent about practicing safer sex, even with a long-term partner, you will feel more secure. It can also take the “trust” issue out of the equation.
- Avoid alcohol and drug use and always set boundaries.
Avoiding alcohol and recreational drug use reduces the risk of contracting an STI, having an unwanted pregnancy, or being coerced to have sex. Alcohol and drug use can reduce your awareness level as well as impair your ability to make reasonable decisions. It's difficult to make responsible choices about your sex life if you're starting out impaired by drugs or alcohol. When you are under the influence, you are more likely to choose to have sex with someone you wouldn’t otherwise have picked as a partner. In addition, you're less likely to be able to successfully negotiate safer sex. If you do plan to go out drinking, or use other substances, make up your mind beforehand what, and who, you really want to do. Then tell your friends, or write it on your hand, so that you stick with your plan. Also, if you’re on birth control and you vomit, your pills could lose some effectiveness.
When in the throes of passion, it can be very difficult to use your brain. It's a bad idea to wait until your clothes have started to come off to start thinking about how far you want to go with your partner that evening. Before you head out on a date, think about your plans for the night. If the opportunity arises, do you want to have sex? Are you comfortable with fooling around a little, but not with oral sex or intercourse? Make a rational decision before you leave your apartment. Then, you’ll not only be prepared to safely act on it, you’re far less likely to end the evening doing something you’ll regret.
8. Seek Treatment If You Have An STD
This prevents your future sex partner from getting the infection.
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Treatment of STDs
The treatment of STDs depends on the causative organism. Treatment is essential to prevent long-term complications. Some of the main points to ensure in treating STDs include:
- All sexual partners of the infected person need to be checked for STDs so they can be treated to prevent further spread of any diseases.
- Individuals at high risk of contracting a disease such as rape victims can be given broad-spectrum antibiotics such as azithromycin and cefixime.
- Bacterial infections such as chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea can be treated using antibiotics such as cephalosporins, penicillin and other agents.
- Antiviral agents may be effective to a certain extent against herpes infection. In addition, warts may be treated using certain local treatments such as freezing therapy. For HIV infection, individuals are treated with antiretroviral agents to keep the viral load low.
- Trichomonas vaginalis is treated using antibiotics while parasitic infections such as lice and scabies are treated with shampoos or creams that contain insecticides.
Conclusively, you never have to have sex. If you don’t want to have sex at all, or just not right then, that’s okay. Sex is not something you owe someone because they bought you dinner.
Furthermore, anyone who is going to break up with you because you won’t sleep with them isn’t someone you should be dating in the first place.
It's your choice to say “yes” to sex, and it's also your choice to say “no”. But, when you do say no, mean it. Don't feign “no” and hope your partner will try to change your mind. Similarly, if your partner tells you no, listen to him/her. They'll know you respect their decisions, and, when they say yes, you can believe that too.
It’s all in the vein to save you from Sexually Transmitted Diseases which have become a serious menace that has damaged the lives of many and destroyed a lot of relationships, as well as, the future of many generations. Therefore, take responsibility for your sexual life, your health and your life as a whole. Do not wait till you get infected before you take cognizance of STDs — remember, “Prevention is better than cure.”
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