So you’ve found yourself with a sexually transmitted infection, otherwise known as an STI? Or perhaps you’re just curious to learn more about these mysterious conditions. Despite their embarrassing nature, we think it’s helpful to discuss them openly so everyone can receive the correct information, and not feel ashamed of ever having had one. After all, they’re more common than you think.
Here’s our round-up of the most common STIs, and what to do if you catch one.
If the idea of catching chlamydia makes you break out in a sweat, you’re not alone - in school we were practically told that STI = shame and instant death! But you should be aware that it is the most common STI in the UK, making up around 46% of all STI diagnoses.
Like most STIs, you can catch it by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected person. It’s transmitted via exchange of bodily fluids like vaginal discharge and semen, but keep in mind that it can still be contracted during sex, even if no one has an orgasm.
Symptoms to watch out for…
Chlamydia is a trickster! About 70% of women with the condition and 50% of men, notice no symptoms, meaning it infects and spreads unchecked in your system and can lead to conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease, so get tested at least once a year if you have unprotected sex.
If you do have chlamydia, it’s rarely a problem, and easily treatable with antibiotics. Your doctor (or local GUM clinic) will prescribe medication, and usually recommend that you refrain from sex for 7 days when beginning treatment.
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, and it’s the most common STI in the US, spreading through sexual contact as well as skin-to-skin contact.
HPV is so common that it’s predicted to affect around 80% of people who have sex, and there are over 100 types of HPV – there’s no escape! Kidding of course, but it’s good to know that it’s a common condition that others around you have likely been affected, too. Most have no symptoms, which is why women get a regular cervical screening test (known as your smear test) to check for HPV.
As far as symptoms go, there aren’t many to watch out for, but in rare cases HPV can lead to genital warts. That phrase may make you choke on your cornflakes, but they’re not common - don’t panic. If you do notice warts appear on your vulva or vagina, visit your GP or GUM clinic to get them checked and easily treated.
Luckily, most types of HPV are not dangerous, and often your body will sort them out naturally. However, there are a few that need to be found and treated ASAP - in rare cases they can lead to cervical cancer, which is a very slow-growing cancer, so as long as you’re attending your smear tests you’re in good hands.
There’s no cure for HPV, but if you end up with this common condition your doctor will discuss many ways to manage it without impacting your health. UK women often receive their HPV vaccine while at school, but if you think you missed this, speak to your doctor.
Gonorrhea is spread through exchange of bodily fluids during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Most women with Gonorrhea have no symptoms, so it can be difficult to diagnose - another reason to get regular tests, just in case!
Symptoms you might notice...
Thankfully, Gonorrhea is easily treatable using antibiotics, followed by another test several months later to check everything is normal. That said, if you have symptoms it’s best to get checked and treated pronto to avoid further issues or transferring it.
Ah yes, the birds and the bees and the hurts-when-I-pees! Having an STI feels like something you should keep to yourself, but since they can lead to serious complications, it’s important and morally right to tell anyone else that you have had sex with so they can get checked, too.
It’s embarrassing and awkward to talk about with someone you have been intimate with, but by burying your feelings and knowledge of it, you could allow the infection to spread to others in a never-ending cycle - not good.
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing the information with your partner, your local sexual health clinic can contact them anonymously on your behalf!
There’s only one right answer here: wear a condom! Bag it up! No glove, no love! You know the rest...
Condoms are the only way to avoid contracting an STI, and even using one doesn’t always protect you, so regular check-ups with your doctor or GUM clinic are advised.
There are many reasons given for not wearing condoms, mainly that they “ruin the moment”. While this can undoubtedly be true sometimes, there is no greater moment-ruiner than unusual discharge or pain during sex, which is what could happen if you harbour an STI.
No partner, whether one night stand or long term relationship, should make you feel bad about asking to wear a condom, no matter the circumstance. Keep things healthy down there!
Have you ever had an STI? We’re really interested to learn about your experience. Let us know how you handled it over on Instagram @itsyoppie - don’t worry, our lips (and DMs) are sealed!
You've got enough going on already so don't forget that our personalised period subscription box can get organic cotton tampons, and much more, delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox. That's a bit less to worry about while you're getting on with life.
1. Family Planning Association. Chlamydia Information & Advice leaflet. 2017.
2. Mesher D, Cuschieri K, Hibbitts S, et al. Type-specific HPV prevalence in invasive cervical cancer in the UK prior to national HPV immunisation programme: Baseline for monitoring the effects of immunisation. J Clin Pathol 2015; 68: 135–140.
3. Burd EM. Human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. Clinical Microbiology Reviews 2003; 16: 1–17.
4. Family Planning Association. Sexually transmitted infections factsheet. 2016https://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/sexually-transmitted-infections (accessed 27 October 2020).
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