An increasing number of sexually active people are understanding the importance of getting checked routinely for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as an essential part of sexual health, however once people become involved in a committed relationship, they often decide that they no longer need to get tested.
Furthermore, many do not believe it is necessary to undergo this type of testing because, among other reasons, they do not consider themselves to be a population at risk. However, according to statistics, there has been a rise in the number of new cases of many infections (as can be seen in the document on Epidemiological Surveillance of Sexually Transmitted Infections in Spain, especially in the male population, which is almost four times higher than in the female population).
Many STIs can be slow-spreading and we are all susceptible to infection at some point in our sexual lives.
Consequently, the best approach to STIs that can be taken is to engage in safe sex practices. With heterosexual relationships, the only safe practice we usually think of in terms of protection against STIs is contraception, but there is no protection against STIs other than prophylactics (condoms).
The use of condoms and dental dams can significantly reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, but even so, it is not a guarantee. That’s why the best way to prevent STIs is to be informed. That is exactly what we present to you in this article.
Fighting misinformation with information
First of all, what is an STI? Sexually transmitted infections are called STIs because they are usually transmitted through contact and body fluids, such as vaginal fluids, semen and blood.
“So, in case I were to have a sexually transmitted infection, I would know.”
The problem with sexually transmitted infections is that they can exhibit a diversity of symptoms including the absence of symptoms. In addition, they may manifest after many years, remaining in a latent phase for a long time, therefore any individual can be an agent of transmission without presenting even a single symptom.
Ideally, the best thing to do is to seek medical advice from a specialist in order to perform tests that will help you to know your state of health. As always, it is best to regularly undergo these tests, especially if you are sexually active.
“STIs can disappear on their own.”
While it is true that some STIs can clear up without treatment, however, by the time your immune system has battled the infection, there may already have been irreparable damage done to the body. Admittedly, it is quite difficult to self-diagnose an STI. Symptoms can come and go, as we discussed in the previous myth, making you think you’ve been cured when you really shouldn’t have to.
“Having an STI is a sign of poor hygiene.”
Just as with a skin infection or a cold, a sexually transmitted infection is not an indicator that you are unhygienic. Contracting an STI means, first and foremost, that you need to be more cautious in the future, and that involves having a conversation with your sexual partner(s) about your health status and using barrier methods of contraception to reduce the risk of having an STI transmitted to you in the first place.
What are the risk factors?
There are a number of factors that may increase the risk of infection once a person becomes sexually active:
- Unprotected sex or sex without adequate means: by this, of course, we are referring to the use of condoms or suitable lubricants. In many cases, insufficient or no lubrication leads to increased friction of the genital mucous membranes, which may cause fissures and thus increase the likelihood of sexually transmitted infections. Therefore, we recommend lubricants such as MYHIXEL Lube, a natural water-based lubricant, perfect for minimizing friction.
- Multiple sexual partners: the greater the number of people with whom you have sexual contact, the greater the risk.
- Drinking alcohol or using illicit recreational drugs: substance abuse can inhibit your judgment, making you more willing to engage in risky behavior.
The importance of knowing your status
Most STIs are treatable with antibiotics, and few are life threatening. However, this does not mean that we should not forget about precautionary measures. The sooner a sexually transmitted infection is detected, the more likely you are to prevent permanent damage to your reproductive organs and overall health. Avoiding treatment can lead to reduced or no fertility, among many other problems.
Depending on your level of sexual activity, the type of sexual activity you engage in and the number of partners, experts recommend regular testing every 12 months. On the other hand, testing should be done every 3 to 6 months if you have unprotected sex with a new partner or if you are unsure of your regular partner’s STI status.
What to do if I have tested positive for an STI? Notification and prevention
If you know you have a sexually transmitted infection, you should always notify your sexual partners, especially if you have had unprotected sex, including current and previous partners (up to a year ago or up to the last time you were tested). In case of infected partners, they may need to be treated if they have transmitted the infection.
There are many STIs that are susceptible to reinfection, so it is particularly important and useful to communicate infections to your sexual partners and thus know our STI status.
Many times, the reason we don’t want to go through a medical exam is because we are afraid of the possibility of receiving unwanted results. But, fortunately, STIs, including HIV, have effective treatments that eliminate or reduce problematic risks and symptoms to a minimum. The point is, the sooner you know this and the sooner you begin these procedures, the better for your health and the health of your sexual partners. Remember that prevention is the key to good physical, mental and, of course, sexual health.
Author: Andrés Suro (Sexual Coach at MYHIXEL)
Psychologist specialized in the social area and expert in sexology applied to education.
PS: Remember you can book a private consultation with me at MYHIXEL CLINIC. Book your appointment here.