With April being STD Awareness Month, you may be hearing a lot about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You’ve probably read about which STDs are the most common, how often you should get tested, etc. Even if you think you know a lot about the topic, though, there’s plenty of information out there about STDs that many of us haven’t heard before. And this is a subject matter you don’t want to assume you know more about than you actually do.
There are probably quite a few interesting facts about STDs that you didn’t know before, which is why we spoke with Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, to set the record straight. Brace yourselves for the knowledge ahead.
Here are 10 surprising facts you never knew about STDs.
1Many STDs are completely symptomless
“Many STIs do not have any symptoms, so getting tested regularly is important to avoid future gynecological problems,” Dr. Ross tells HelloGiggles. “HPV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are often found on routine pap smear or STI screening tests.”
We know—the fact that STDs and STIs often don’t show symptoms is scary AF. By the way, if you’re wondering what the difference is between STIs and STDs, here’s the deal. Not all sexually transmitted infections become sexually transmitted diseases. So a person can become infected, yet that doesn’t mean they’ll have symptoms or develop said disease.
That being said, whether it’s an STI or an STD, it’s very possible for you to have it without knowing, since there are no noticeable symptoms.
2It only takes one unprotected sexual experience to get an STI
Yes, this may be a no-brainer, but how many people do you know who may be in denial about this one? “Unprotected intercourse even once can lead to an STI,” Dr. Michael Krychman, MD, OB/GYN, sexual medicine gynecologist and the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, tells HG.
Okay, point taken. It’s best to *always* play it safe.
3Condoms don’t protect against all STDs
“Prevention is the best defense against STIs,” Dr. Ross says. “Male and female condoms are the current way to help reduce your risk of common sexually transmitted infections, including HPV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV.”
However, Dr. Krychman wants you to know that condoms aren’t completely foolproof. “If you think condoms protect against all STIs, that’s not true,” Dr. Krcyhman tells HG. “Some STIs can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so it’s always best to get examined, know your partner, and practice safer sex.”
For instance, experts say that genital herpes, the most common STD, can be transmitted via the thighs and buttocks. And condoms can’t protect you from that.
4Oral sex is not as safe as you may think
“Receiving oral sex from someone who has a cold sore on the mouth can cause a genital herpes infection,” Dr. Gorens says. As you may know, there is no cure for herpes; however, symptoms can be alleviated.
5HPV was not even an issue a few decades ago
“The most common and epidemic STI, HPV, was not even on the radar of sexual active women and men 30 years ago,” Dr. Ross informs us. “The HPV vaccine is now part of the health care narrative for young girls and boys.”
Dr. Ross also says the medical community is putting more effort into diagnosing new STDs and coming up with new ways to prevent and treat them. Experts are trying to encourage people to use condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex (to protect the throat from HPV).
6You can develop an STI/STD without actually having sex
We know—what?! But, yes, according to Rush University Medical Center, mutual masturbation can expose someone to several STDs, including chlamydia, syphilis, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Dr. Krychman agrees, saying this is due to the skin-to-skin contact.
7Many STD symptoms are easily mistaken for something else
In addition to having no STI/STD symptoms at all, it’s common for people to dismiss what they have for another medical issue. When in doubt, go get checked out, because we should all be getting tested for STDs regularly anyway. “It’s best to get tested for STIs once a year, after unprotected sex, and in between new partners,” Dr. Ross says.
8STD symptoms can be silent
“Many STIs are asymptomatic and can be silent,” Dr. Krychman tells HG. “A woman can have an infection and not even have the common symptoms of burning, pain, or discharge. It’s best to get screened.” This is why it’s so important to get tested on the regular. Just because you don’t feel like there’s anything wrong doesn’t mean you’re completely in the clear.
9Many STDs have long-term complications
“Many STIs have long-reaching implications,” Dr. Krcyhman says. “STIs can lead to several issues, including chronic pelvic pain, damaging your fallopian tubes, and even cause infertility.” This isn’t something you want to gamble with. Go see a doctor and make sure you’re in the clear.
10Every sexually active person is at risk for getting an STD
When it comes to age, gender, or race, STIs and STDs don’t discriminate. “All-aged women and men are at risk for STIs,” Dr. Ross tells us. “ Anyone who is sexually active is now at risk. The best defense is a good offense.”
But the good news?
“The entire sexual culture has change dramatically over the past 30-40 years,” Dr. Ross says. “Younger women are much more involved in their sexual education and health.”
She suggests having “the conversation” with your new partner before you get sexually involved. It may not sound like the romantic thing to do, but if they care about your health and theirs, they’ll listen and engage.
Now’s the perfect time to schedule an appointment with your provider and get yourself tested. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you’ll feel so much more relieved when you know the truth.