Sexually transmitted infections, or STI’s, are diseases that are spread through sexual contact. STI’s are among the most common diseases in the United States with about 1 in 4 Americans having an STI.
How to prevent STI’s?
The only way to prevent an STI is not to have sex. There are many ways to express love and make each other feel good without having sex. Condoms, however, are very helpful in reducing the risk for contacting an STI.
How can I reduce my risk for STI’s?
- Before you have sex, talk with your partner about past exposures and agree to use condoms. It is smart to get tested and know your status before engaging in new sexual relationships
- Use a condom every time you have sex
- Be prepared. Men AND women can carry condoms
- Avoid oil based lubricants like lotions, creams, Vaseline, as these can weaken the condom
- Spermicides like nonoxynol-9 are ineffective at STI prevention
STI’s in women can cause special problems. Many times, STI’s can be present without any symptoms at all. The following offers a description of various STI’s and the problems they can cause if untreated:
- HPV – perhaps the most common with about 6 million new cases each year. HPV infections can result in genital warts, abnormal pap smears, and/or cervical cancer. HPV is present on the skin and transmitted from skin-to-skin contact. Condoms reduce risk but do not completely prevent infection. No treatment exists but vaccines are available to prevent risk of cancer.
- Chlamydia – more common in young women 25 years of age and younger. Can result in scarring of fallopian tubes and make pregnancy difficult in the future. Can be prevented with condom use and easily treated with an antibiotic
- Gonorrhea – classically associated with vaginal discharge, odor and pain. Can be treated with antibiotic
- Trichomonas – results in a smelly, frothy vaginal discharge and can be detected on pap smear as well. Treatment includes antibiotic medication
- Herpes – typically associated with painful blisters in the vaginal, vulvar, or anal areas. One out of six people age 14-49 in the United States have genital herpes although many are asymptomatic. Blood testing is available if blisters are no longer present. There is no cure, but medication can be taken to prevent and treat outbreaks.
- HIV – life-threatening virus than can be prevented with condom use. There is still no cure for HIV and HIV can lead to AIDS and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend annual HIV testing in all sexually active women. At home testing is now available if you prefer a private, confidential screening in the comfort of your home.
For more information on STI’s, talk with your provider or call the following hotlines:
- American Social Health Association (ASHA) – 1-888-STD-AIDS (1-888-783-2437)
- National Herpes Hotline – 1-919-361-8488
- National STI Hotline – 1-800-227-8922
- CDC Information Service – 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)