Teaching safe sex is an important awareness campaign to save our youth from the potential tragic side effects hidden diseases.
Nearly half of all STI cases in Australia affect people between 15 and 24 years of age, so it’s important to learn about the dangers while we’re still young. Here’s 10 things you need to know about STIs as a woman.
1. Women are more likely to contract an STI
The lining of the vagina is thinner and more delicate than the skin on a penis, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate. Plus, the environment makes it much easier for bacteria to grow.
2. There are more than 25 known STIs
The most common STIs include:
- Pubic lice (‘crabs’)
- Genital warts
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Human papillomavirus (HPV).
The list is long and scary, so remember to practice safe sex and get tested after each new partner.
3. STIs are treatable, but not all are curable
Your first step to treating your STI is to get it diagnosed. Most GPs can screen for STIs through blood tests, urine samples, or fluid samples. Sometimes, you may be referred to a specialist clinic to have these tests done.
Treatment normally includes a program of antibiotics and antiviral drugs, depending on the type of infection.
4. Not all STIs have visible symptoms
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI. If you’re a sexually active adult, chances are that you’ve already had it and didn’t realise. It does sometime present as genital warts, but most times it will come and go without showing any symptoms. There is no treatment for HPV.
Chlamydia is known as a ‘silent’ infection, because most people won’t experience any symptoms. Others won’t be so lucky. If you’re affected, you may feel a burning sensation when you pee, having an abnormal vaginal discharge, or bleed between periods (spotting).
Gonorrhoea is a common STI for women under 25 and usually won’t present any symptoms. But if left untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, scarring, and damage to your reproductive organs.
The thought of having herpes conjures up images of painful sores, but up to 90% of people with herpes HSV-2 are never diagnosed.
Trichomoniasis is a lesser-known STI. It’s caused by a parasite, and only presents symptoms in 30% of cases. If left untreated, trichomoniasis can increase your risk of contracting HIV.
5. If left untreated, STIs can have serious consequences
Leaving some STIs untreated can cause blindness, lead to cancer, or cause infertility. Some STIs can even be transmitted to newborn babies.
The stigma attached to having an STD can also have a long-lasting mental effect on some patients.
6. GPs don’t routinely screen for STIs
Screening for STIs isn’t part of your normal GP consultation, which means you may not be offered one without showing symptoms. If you think you’ve been exposed to an STI, you’ll need to tell your GP and may need to ask for a test explicitly. Many GP clinics can perform these, but you can always ask for a referral to a women’s health specialist if you’d rather be tested there.
7. Male condoms offer the best protection against STIs
Abstinence is the only 100% effective way to prevent a sexually transmitted disease. Using a standard male condom is the second most effective way, being 98% effective at preventing most STIs. Female condoms are slightly less effective, but can still prevent STIs up to 95% of the time with perfect use.
8. Almost all sexually active people have an HPV infection at some stage
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is so common that almost every sexually active person will contract it at some stage of their life.
Like most diseases and medical conditions, prevention is better than cure. HPV can be prevented through vaccination for children up to the age of 19. If you’re sexually active and aged 25-70, regular cervical screening can identify it. Using protection during sex is the best way to prevent it.
HPV itself can’t be treated and eventually goes away by itself, but there are treatment options available for genital warts and cancers caused by HPV.
9. STIs among older people are on the rise
Advances in the medical world, especially in treating erectile dysfunction, allow men to maintain an active sex life for much longer than before. Treatments like the MonaLisa Touch can effectively relieve some of the vaginal discomfort that comes with menopause, so older women can often enjoy sex for longer too.
This, combined with those who are recently divorced, it’s giving oldies a new lease on life.
Unfortunately, older people are more embarrassed to speak to their GP about STIs, leaving a large number undiagnosed.
10. You can get the same STI more than once
With the exception of hepatitis A and B, your body does not build up an immunity to any STI. This also mean that you and your partner can infect each other back and forth, until you both have a clean bill of health.
The good news is that women do tend to see their doctor more often than men, providing ample opportunity to be screened for STIs. There are treatments on the market to treat and manage STIs, and a vaccine is available to prevent HPV.
STIs that are left untreated can have serious health consequences, including infertility.
If you think you may have an STI, ask your GP for a test. You can ask for a referral to Northside Gynaecology for specialised treatment.