How well do you know the most common sexually transmitted infections (also called STIs or sometimes called STDs)? It’s something no one wants to think about. Unfortunately they are very common and on the rise. And for many of them, you don’t actually have to have penis-in-vagina sex to contract them. Oral sex can transmit some viruses and some only require skin contact.
It is really important to know your partner well and both get tested before you decide to have any kind of sex. Even if you are both virgins, if you’ve ever fooled around with anyone else, there’s still a chance one or both of you has an STI. In one study up to 25% of adolescent girls tested positive for an STI within one year of their first sexual encounter.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV):
This is the most common STI in adolescents. There are two types of HPV: “high-risk” that can cause cervical cancer and “low-risk” responsible for genital warts. Often HPV can have no symptoms and your body can clear the virus over a span of 6-24 months. If it doesn’t get cleared, cancer or warts occur, depending on the strain of the virus. Genital warts are small firm fleshy bumps on the vagina, labia, thighs, or buttocks. Warts can be transmitted by skin touching skin; you can get them even if you didn’t actually have “sex.” You can be immunized for HPV.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV):
This is the virus that causes AIDS. 40,000-80,000 people are infected with HIV annually and half of those people are under the age of 25. It is transmitted sexually or through blood (tattoo or IV drug needles). There are medications to treat HIV, but no cure yet.
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV):
There are two strains of HSV and either one can cause cold sores on your lips or herpes sores on your genitals or buttocks. The sores look similar in both spots. They start with tingling, then develop painful ulcers that crust over as they heal. Sometimes the ulcer can be hidden in a spot that is difficult to see. You can have many ulcers or only one. There is no cure for herpes but it can be managed with medications. This is another STI that you can get from skin contact, not just “sex.”
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea:
These are bacterial infections that can cause pelvic pain and heavy discharge, but sometimes have no symptoms at all. They can be treated with antibiotics. If they are not treated (especially chlamydia), a more serious infection can develop in the pelvis that can scar the Fallopian tubes and make it more difficult to get pregnant in the future.
Hepatitis B and C:
These viruses cause liver damage. You won’t show symptoms typically, they show up in a blood test. They are transmitted sexually or from blood through needles. You can be immunized for Hepatitis B but there is no immunization for Hepatitis C.
This is caused by a small bacteria and usually shows up as a painless ulcer (compared to herpes where the ulcers hurt!). The ulcer will go away but the the disease will not. Untreated syphilis can lead to a rash over the whole body and eventually a brain or nervous system infection over a long period of time. It is treated with penicillin.
This is a tiny parasite that causes itching and discharge, usually greenish and frothy. It is diagnosed in the doctors office, the organisms can be seen under a microscope. It is treated with antibiotics.
If you are concerned you have been exposed to an one of the common sexually transmitted infections STI on this list, or have had unprotected sex, it is really important to be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
20% of teenagers don’t fill their prescriptions for STI treatment. but if you do have an STI it is really important to take your prescribed medication to treat it. It is also really important to tell your partner so they can be treated too. And don’t have sex again until you know you were both treated, otherwise you can get the same STI again!