Mark your calendars, because April is Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Awareness Month! Of course we should all stay informed about and aware of our sexual health and STDs during all months of the year, but this special month is the time to build awareness about and destigmatize STDs. So we’re providing you with all resources and facts about STDs you need to take into the future and better protect yourself. Because everyone deserves to enjoy safe sex.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, more than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point during their life. Furthermore, one every four women who suffers from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) contracted the condition because of an untreated STD — and many of these women are infertile as a result. Because there’s so much at stake, it’s important to stay on top of your sexual health screenings and tests to protect yourself and your partner(s).
Starting with the basics, these are the most common STDs, and how best to avoid them.
1Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV, or Human Papillomavirus, is the most common STD in the United States. In fact, the CDC says HPV is so common that most sexually active people get it at some point in their lives. Different strains of HPV can cause genital warts and cancers, and can be totally symptomless or show symptoms years after initially contracting it.
HPV can go away on its own. But if it doesn’t, we have to worry about warts and cancer. In order to avoid the risk of developing cancer, you can get vaccinated. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated against HPV around ages 11 to 12. “Catch up vaccinations” are available to men up until the age of 21, and to women until age 26.
Although using condoms is always the right way to go to protect yourself against most STDs, HPV can still be transmitted through exposed skin. Get routine cervical cancer screenings and Pap smears, even post menopause, to stay aware of potential HPV hazards.
Anyone can get gonorrhea. It’s super common among young sexually active people and can cause infection in the genitals, rectum, and throat. Gonorrhea usually does not show any symptoms. But when symptoms do show, they are usually mild and women can often mistake them for a bladder or vaginal infection.
Abnormal discharge, vaginal bleeding between periods, and burning during urination are all signs that you might have gonorrhea. The best way to avoid gonorrhea is to refrain from sex (heh) or, better yet, use latex condoms. Make sure you know your partner’s sexual history and ask them if they have been recently tested for STDs.
Another potentially symptomless STD that can affect anyone is herpes. Genital herpes is caused by two different viruses — herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2. According to the CDC, about one in every six people between the ages of 14 to 49 have genital herpes. The disease is transmitted through sex, contact with the fluids inside a herpes sore, and through unaware infected sex partners. Unfortunately, herpes can also be contracted through symptomless skin-to-skin contact, which is why getting tested regularly is extremely important.
Similar to HPV, condoms aren’t always the answer to avoiding herpes. Herpes is very contagious and incurable, so make sure you ask your sexual partner if they’ve been tested. There are medications you can take to suppress outbreaks and transmission. But refraining from sex with someone who has the STD is the best way to avoid getting it yourself.
Although both men and women can contract chlamydia, if left untreated, it can do serious harm to a woman’s reproductive system, which can include infertility. Similarly to gonorrhea, chlamydia may not show symptoms thus making it serious silent threat, especially to women. But, contrary to what we learned from Mean Girls, chlamydia (or, as Coach Carr spells it, klamidia) is actually easily treatable.
Those who do experience symptoms of chlamydia might notice abnormal discharge and a burning sensation during urination. In order to steer clear of the STD, always make sure you’re using condoms and ask your partner if they have been recently tested.
According to the ASHA, viral hepatitis comes in five different strains, each causing an inflammation of the liver. In the United States, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are the most common forms of the disease, with A and B being related to sexual activity. Hepatitis A is contracted through ingesting blood or stool from someone who has the disease. Hepatitis B can affect a person if their mucous membranes or blood come into contact with infected blood, saliva, semen or vaginal secretions. Hepatitis C is spread by blood to blood contact.
Many cases of hepatitis are not a serious health threat and are often self-resolving. Hepatitis A and B can even be prevented altogether through vaccination. But occasionally hepatitis can cause liver failure or death, so stay on top of your STD tests. Always use a condom and ask your partner about their sexual health and history. When in doubt, refrain from sex completely.
Commonly referred to as “crabs,” pubic lice are usually found on the pubic hair, but can also travel to other parts of the body where coarse hair grows. Crabs causes itching about five days after contracting them and can be cleared up with the right medication. Staying away from infected people, furniture, linens, and clothing is the best way to prevent getting crabs.
Again, although condoms are always the right option, they can not always prevent crabs from spreading.
The best way to protect yourself from any STD or STI is to abstain from sex. But if you’re a sexually active person, use condoms, participate in a monogamous relationship with a partner who has tested negative for any STDs, and get regularly tested in order to protect yourself against infection.
If you notice that anything feels off and your gut is telling you to see a doctor, do not hesitate to do so. Getting tested for these common STDs, as well as more severe STDs like syphilis, HIV, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or any other serious infections or diseases, is the best way to stay on top of your sexual health. By taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of others, and both will lead to a happier and healthier life.