Real Talk about STDs

This article discusses a mature topic. Our 17-year-old and younger readers are encouraged to read this with an adult.

I spend a lot of time in this column talking about pregnancy prevention, which is really important if you’re a few years away from choosing baby names and painting the nursery. But one in two sexually active people will get an STD before the age of the 25, so it’s about time that I devoted some space to preventing STDs, as well.

Today I’m going to talk about one of the most common STDs out there: Chlamydia. It’s not a flower or a girl’s name. It’s one of the most common STDs, and it’s curable!

STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases–sometimes called STIs or Sexually Transmitted Infections) are transmitted through sexual contact. Most STDs are transmitted through infected sexual fluids (semen or vaginal fluid) or blood, but a few can be transmitted through skin to skin contact. Chlamydia is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through fluids, typically during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. As always, if you have questions you can always email me at [email protected]

What are the most common symptoms for Chlamydia? Wouldn’t I know if I had it?

Maybe you remember high school sex ed class, complete with grainy photos of discharge and bumps. You probably wiggled with discomfort in your seat, glancing away until the next slide clicked into place.

One of the many problems with those pictures is that they give students the false impression that all STDs are accompanied by symptoms. In fact, the most common symptom of an STD is no symptom at all. Three out of four women (and about 50% of men) who have Chlamydia do not show any symptoms—which is why it’s so important to get tested regularly if you’re sexually active.

When women with Chlamydia do show symptoms, they include discharge and pain during urination or sex. Since daily discharge is part of having a vagina, and it can vary throughout your cycle, it’s important to know what your “normal” is. If you notice anything that doesn’t seem normal, have it checked out by your doctor.

I know that I’m supposed to get checked regularly for STDs, but how often is regularly? And how does testing work for Chlamydia?

If you’re practicing abstinence (meaning no contact with sexual fluids) you probably don’t need to get checked very often. If you are sexually active, then it’s a good idea to get checked every six months to a year, or if you have a new sexual partner.

There are a few ways to test for Chlamydia, the most common being a simple urine sample (peeing in a cup) or a swab during a pelvic exam. STD screening isn’t always included in a routine physical exam, so be sure to ask your health care provider or contact your local Planned Parenthood.

What happens if I test positive for Chlamydia? No sex for life?

If you do test positive for Chlamydia, don’t panic! It is curable if caught early and treated with antibiotics. It’s important that your partner get tested and treated as well—otherwise you will continue to re-infect one another.

If left untreated, Chlamydia can have serious health consequences, such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), sterility and even arthritis. So get yourself tested, already! Abstinence or using a condom each and every time you have sex are the best ways to ensure that you don’t get Chlamydia, or any other STD, to begin with.

(Image via Shutterstock).