What Do You Need to Know About STDs?
Updated: Apr 12
This week is STD Awareness Week, so HRT is breaking down everything you need to know about STDs!
What is an STD?
STD stands for sexually transmitted disease. They are illnesses that spread primarily through sexual contact. Some people refer to them as STIs or sexually transmitted infections. Unless you’re a medical professional, the two terms are basically interchangeable. STI is a slightly broader term. Technically, in order for an infection to be considered a disease, you have to be showing symptoms, but you can be infected before you start showing symptoms, thus the term sexually transmitted infection covers more.
How do I know if I have an STD?
So what exactly are these symptoms you could show? The most common STI symptoms are itching, redness, or burning of the genitals, especially during urination. Other STIs can cause sores or warts on the genitals. However, not everyone who is infected shows symptoms. Just because you have no symptoms does not mean you are not infected. People who are infected often don’t even realize they have an STI (especially women because their reproductive organs are internal). This means that individuals could be spreading STIs without realizing it! It also means that the infection could be doing serious harm to your body without you knowing it!
What’s so bad about an STD?
STDs can be serious health risks, especially when left untreated. Some, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can weaken your immune system so that you are less able to fight off other illnesses. Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can lead to various kinds of cancer. Advanced stages of syphilis can result in dementia. In these cases, STIs can be deadly, so they need to be taken seriously. Other than serious health risks, STDs can cause a great deal of discomfort, and although STIs are common, telling a partner about an STI you’ve contracted can feel embarrassing or even shameful. However uncomfortable the discussion may be, it is still essential to discuss STDs with a potential partner to elude the spread of the diseases.
What causes STDs?
STIs have three causes: bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Bacterial STIs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis can be cured with treatment. However, that does not mean they are nothing to worry about. If left untreated, they can cause serious damage, especially to your reproductive system that can make it difficult to have children later on in life.
Viral STIs like herpes, HIV/AIDS, and HPV can be treated but not cured. Once the virus is in you, it’s in you for life. That doesn’t mean that your life is over if you get a viral STI. Symptoms and even the spread of viral STIs can be managed with medication, but only if you know that you are infected!
Parasitic STIs are caused by organisms that live in or on the human body. These include STIs like trichomoniasis, pubic lice (crabs), and scabies. Similar to bacterial STIs, these can be cured by killing the parasites.
What do I do if I think I have an STD?
If you have symptoms of an STD or know that you have been exposed, get tested. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that sexually active individuals get tested every six months to a year or with new partners. HRT’s organization Promise of Life Network offers free testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea through their client services division, Alpha Omega Center. Other clinics may offer free testing as well. Book an appointment today!
How can I stay STI-Free?
Condoms are designed to prevent the spread of STIs during sexual activity, and while condom usage can reduce your risk of contracting an STI, you are still at risk. Condoms are designed to shield the person’s genitals from the other party’s body fluids, so they are primarily meant to protect against STIs that spread through the exchange of body fluids. However, they are not always successful. Condoms are highly prone to user error: they can break, fall off, be defective, or not stored correctly. Condoms also do not protect as well against STIs that spread through skin-to-skin contact because those STIs don’t rely on the body fluids that condoms are designed to catch. That includes STIs like HPV, herpes, and pubic lice. Because these STIs spread through skin-to-skin contact, they can spread through any kind of sexual activity, not just sexual intercourse. Any kind of sexual contact (touching another’s genitals) is considered sexual activity and carries the risk of STIs.
The most reliable way to not contract an STI is to not participate in any sexual activity. If two people refrain from sexual activity until a lifelong committed relationship, such as marriage, and are only ever sexually active with each other, there is no exposure to and therefore no risk of contracting an STI.
Stay tuned to the HRT blog and Instagram page for more information on STIs and sexual risk avoidance! Follow us at @hrt_poln for more tips on healthy relationships!
Center for Disease Control. “Sexually Transmitted Duseases (STDs),” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 22 February 2022.
Galileo. “What is a parasitic STI?” Galileo, Inc: 2022.
MedlinePlus. “Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” National Library of Medicine: 19 November 2021.