Hey, dear readers. In case you didn’t know, April is STD Awareness Month, and we’re using this opportunity to arm you with all the sexually transmitted disease (STD) knowledge you need to go about your sex life in a safe (and fun) way. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, so we’re hoping to answer the most important questions you may have about STDs and STIs, giving you peace of mind and making you feel empowered about your sexual health.
One thing you may be wondering is exactly how easy it is to contract an STD. There are many myths and misconceptions about STDs out there, but one thing is certain: Getting an STD is incredibly common. Don’t panic — we got the scoop from two OB/GYNs, who insist that the numbers shouldn’t necessarily scare you.
“The majority of sexually active people will get Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in their lifetime,” Dr. Polaneczky tells HG.
But before you freak out, it’s important to understand the facts and realize that this may not be as big a deal as you think.
When it comes to STIs, it’s very important to point out the demographics. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), adolescents and young adults in the 15 to 24 age range have twice the rate of STIs than the general population. Half of all STIs occur in this age group, eve though they make up a quarter of the population. That’s why arming young people with information is so crucial, says Montana-based OB/GYN Gina Nelson, M.D.
Lastly, a “lack of access to care where screening and treatment of STIs can occur.” That’s not the best combination of factors.
Yikes. But what are the chances for a sexually active person to actually get an STI?
“Less common but very important STIs are HIV and viral hepatitis, which includes hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These are serious life threatening infections, even though some treatments are available,” Dr. Nelson says.
“Hepatitis C can be passed by sexual contact, though not as easily as hepatitis B or HIV. There is a treatment but it is sometimes unsuccessful. HIV can be passed though various forms of sexual activity. Highest risk is anal sex, followed by vaginal sex, then oral sex,” Dr. Nelson tells HG.
“Condoms can help prevent STIs. However, they must be checked before hand so they are not damaged, expired or overheated from storage,” Dr. Nelson instructs. “They must be properly applied and removed, and not burst or slip. They must be used every time regardless of the time in the menstrual cycle.”
Dr. Polaneczky agrees, adding that “spermicides can increase the chances of HIV transmission, so condoms with spermicides should be avoided.”
In addition to regular condom use, you have the option for getting a vaccine for two STIs — HPV and hepatitis B. No matter what kind of precautions you take, though, Dr. Nelson urges everyone who has sex to “be regularly tested and treated for any STIs.” Noted.
Dr. Nelson advises against “high-risk sexual practices,” such as having multiple sex partners without knowing much of their background, combining drugs and alcohol with sex, etc. Finally, if you’re ever unsure of what you’re about to get yourself into, Dr. Nelson urges, “The only sure way not to get an STI is not to have sex.”
However, even though you’re now armed with knowledge to make safe choices with your sexual health, it’s also important to remove the stigma attached to an STD diagnosis.
“When you get a cold, do you pass judgement on the person who gave it to you? To judge people based on something as common as an HPV diagnosis or the herpes virus is absurd,” Dr. Polaneczky says.
We couldn’t agree more. Everyone has sex — just like everyone eats, poops, and sleeps — and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not great that STDs are a common thing to catch, but it does remind us that it shouldn’t be a taboo topic. Encourage others to speak about their experiences and get tested. The safer sex we all have, the better our health will be. Have fun and be safe!