Updated: Oct 24
What are sexually transmitted infections?
Good sex life can do wonders to our lives, but also may bring unpleasant surprises. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are much more common than you think, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 1 million curable STIs are acquired every day! Any sexual contact — vaginal, oral, anal sex, or even just skin-to-skin contact — would potentially put you at risk for STIs.
Over 35 different types of STIs caused by viruses, bacterias, and parasites, are known to be transmitted through sexual contact. Many STIs are asymptomatic, about 50% of men and 70% of women who are infected do not have any symptoms, and they may never know that they are infected until months or years later. STIs often catch people off guard, so it’s very important to learn about it to protect yourself and to maintain a satisfying sex life.
Women are more prone to STIs than men
Although STIs are very common for both men and women, it is a sad truth that women are affected more than men. This gender differential is greater in developing countries than in industrialized countries; biological, social, cultural, and economic factors all contribute to the gender inequities in STIs. Studies have shown that women have a higher biological risk for contracting STIs and HIV than men. Larger mucosal surface area, microlesions caused during sex (particularly forced sex), and the presence of more HIV in semen than in vaginal secretions all contribute to women's greater vulnerability to STIs and HIV.
Minor STI symptoms often include rashes, unusual discharge, and pain during sex; but if left untreated, they can lead to serious long-term and irreversible health consequences. Serious STI conditions can lead to reproductive health problems, cause certain types of cancer, make you more susceptible to HIV infections, and can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth In the United States, there are at least 24,000 women who become infertile each year due to undiagnosed and untreated STIs; while syphilis during pregnancy leads to approximately 305,000 fetal and neonatal deaths globally every year.
The good news is some STIs are curable, and most of them are treatable when found at an early stage. This is why It’s important to visit your doctor as soon as you have symptoms. Early diagnosis means you can get treatment earlier and have less risk of complications.
There is nothing to be ashamed of — sometimes it’s just pure bad luck
There is a common false association between high-risk sex and STIs, even among professionals who are well aware of the cause of impact. In a survey with medical students and nurses in Singapore, 37.5% of respondents said they would not share a house with a person with HIV, and 34% believed that it was the patient’s fault that he or she has HIV.
But is it really true that only high-risk sex can lead to STIs and HIV? Absolutely not. STIs can happen to any sexually active adults, even when you are practicing safe sex. The germs that cause STIs to hide in semen, blood, vaginal secretions, and sometimes saliva. Most of the organisms are spread by vaginal, anal, or oral sex; but you can get hepatitis B by sharing personal items such as toothbrushes or razors with someone who has it; or get infected with trichomoniasis through contact with damp or moist objects such as towels, wet clothing, or toilet seats.
We should understand that STIs can happen to anyone, just like the common cold or the flu, and there is nothing to feel shameful about being infected. Having STIs doesn’t necessarily mean one has done anything wrong, or one’s partner is not faithful. It could just be pure bad luck.
STIs are inevitable but here are things that can help!
Although STIs may sound inevitable, here are the things you could do to reduce your risk:
Get tested regularly: STI tests are not covered by normal physical exams, but you should ask your doctors to include STI tests if you are sexually active. Women should also get a Pap smear or HPV testing done every three to five years to prevent HPV from developing into cervical cancer.
Get vaccinated: Vaccination is still the most effective way to prevent infectious diseases. For STIs, currently, there are only vaccinations available for herpes and HPV.
Use protection: Whether it’s for vaginal, anal, or oral sex, a condom can help protect both you and your partner. Spermicides, birth control pills, and other forms of contraception may prevent pregnancy, but they don’t protect you from STIs.
Communicate: Talking openly with your partners about your sexual history and concerns is always the best way to prevent the unnecessary spreading of STIs.
STIs might feel awkward and frightening, but that’s all just social stigma! There is no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed by STIs; we should overcome this taboo by learning the facts and raise awareness on the topic, as everyone deserves a safe and enjoyable sex life!