Approximately 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are diagnosed each year according to the U.S.Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If that isn’t scary enough, they also say that worldwide, more than one half of all people will be diagnosed with an STD sometime in their life. But much of this is preventable, or at least you can greatly reduce your chance of contracting an STD, if you choose to practice safe sex - everytime
What you need to know about STDs:
There are many different types of STDs. You probably have heard about the most common types: herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, crabs (pubic lice) and HIV. But there are other types as well and some of the common types have more than one variety, for example, there are over 100 types of HPV viruses that have been identified.
You can contract an STD through oral sex. Many people believe that if they limit themselves to having only oral sex, they are safe. But that isn’t try. STDs can be contracted through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Be sure to use a condom during oral sex - whether giving or receiving (male and female condoms are available).
Some STDs can be cured, others can only be treated. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are all bacterial infections and can be cured with the proper treatment. Other types of STDs can be treated and managed but are uncurable - meaning you will live with the STD for the rest of your life.
You should be tested regularly for STDs if you are having unprotected sex or having sex with multiple partners. Some STDs don’t show symptoms or the symptoms may not appear for years after you have been exposed. Some STDs have symptoms similar to yeast infections or urinary tract infections and you could mistake the symptoms for one of these. Regular testing will let you know right away if you have contracted an STD and allow you to begin treatment as soon as possible.
Untreated STDs can lead to health issues, complications and problems with later pregnancies. Without proper treatment, some STDs can cause infertility, lead to pelvic inflammatory disease or increase your risk of having an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. Untreated syphilis can lead to blindness, paralysis or brain damage. HPV can lead to cervical and other types of cancer. Women with STDs have a higher risk of having a baby with a low birth rate, infections and other health complications.
STDs can be passed to an unborn child. Mothers infected with STDs can pass the infection to their baby either during the pregnancy or during the birth.
Women are more susceptible to contracting an STD than men. Due to a woman’s anatomy, they contract STDs more often than men. The female genitals are moister, thinner and more prone to infection than men’s. Women might not get diagnosed as often because symptoms go unnoticed, either because the STD is asymptomatic or because symptoms are not as noticeable, for example, the penis is more accessible and visible than a woman’s vagina and cervix.
Your doctor may not test for STDs unless you specifically ask for the test. While it would seem like common sense for women to be tested for STDs when getting a pap smear or annual exam, this isn’t always done unless you specifically ask your doctor to run these tests.
Using condoms lowers your risk of contracting an STD but doesn’t eliminate it. The only way to completely avoid the risk of an STD is through abstinence but condoms do make it less likely that you will contract an STD. Some, however, can be spread through the skin - such as syphilis, herpes and HPV, so you are still at risk, even when using a condom.
Remember, you aren’t just sleeping with your partner, you are sleeping with everyone they have been with. If you have decided to have sex with your partner, chances are you trust him or her and believe it is safe. But because STDs often don’t have symptoms, your partner may have contracted an STD without even knowing it. To be safe, you should both be tested before beginning a sexual relationship to make sure you don’t give or get an STD.
"Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)" - CDC Factsheets: http://www.cdc.gov/STD/healthcomm/fact_sheets.htm
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.