Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Infections
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs) can impact anyone at any time throughout their life. As a result, people who are sexually active, especially those people with multiple partners, need to be aware of the risk associated with sexual behavior and the precautions to insure their safety. This is especially true for individuals who do not have a steady partner.
Sexually transmitted diseases and infections are passed on from one person to another during sexual activity and are important to recognize and treat as early as possible. Recognizing their presence however is not always so easy. Unfortunately, sometimes the symptoms of a STD or STI are not visible for weeks or months after an infection has occurred.
A sexually transmitted infection is contracted through unprotected sexual contact with bodily fluids such as blood, semen and vaginal secretions. Although HIV and AIDS are the most talked about sexual infection, there are numerous other infections such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), Chlamydia and genital herpes to name a few.
Naturally, a sexually transmitted disease or infection is not something that can be recognized simply by looking at a person. The only way to be sure that you do not have a STD is to be tested by your doctor or at a clinic. It is usually recommended that if you are beginning a new relationship with a new partner that both you and your partner should be tested for a STD before becoming sexually active. It is also recommended that you be retested approximately 3 to 6 months later.
If you are going to be sexually active with another person there is only one way to protect yourself from contracting a STD and that is to practice safe sex. And, it can't be safe sex just some of the time or even most of the time. Safe sex is a practice that has to happen every time you are sexual with another person. The easiest way to protect yourself from a STD is to use a male or female condom. You can also use dental dams and condoms for protection during oral sex.
What are the chances of getting a STD? The answer to this question depends on the sexual activity you are practicing. Different sexual behaviors carry different risk for contracting a STD. In the high risk category, vaginal and anal intercourse without a condom carries the greatest risk. Although most people may feel that oral sex is a safe behavior, it is a behavior that does carry a low risk of infection if done without a condom or dental dam. Abstinence as well as masturbation with or without a partner is the only activity that is completely safe.
In general, sexually transmitted infections and diseases can be grouped into three main categories: Viral, Bacterial and Parasitic.
Viral Infections: Viral STIs are caused by viruses passed from one person to another during sexual activity. In general, viral infections can involve numerous parts of the body at the same time. HPV is the most common viral infection and is passed through vaginal, anal or orals ex. Genital Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus and results in sores around the mouth or genitals. It is transmitted by sexual activity or by skin to skin contact.
HIV attacks the body's immune system leaving infected individuals unable to fight off other infections. It is transmitted by sexual activity but can also spread by sharing objects such as razors, needles and toothbrushes. Like HIV, the Hepatatis B Virus is a liver disease and is also spread by sexual activities as well as the sharing objects such as razors, needles and toothbrushes.
Bacterial Infections: As one might expect, bacterial infections are caused by bacteria that are passed from person to person during sexual activity. Examples of bacterial infections include Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. These infections typically occur with individuals in the 15 to 29 year range and can result in infertility for both men and women.
Syphilis is another bacterial infection. It is characterized by painless sores where the bacteria entered the body. It is critical that the infection be treated otherwise it can result in heart problems, mental health issues and even death.
Parasitic Infections: These STIs are caused by parasites that are passed from person to person during sexual activity. They can also be passed from one person to another by the sharing of sexual toys such as vibrators and other sexual paraphernalia. Unfortunately, they can not always be seen by the naked eye and include Pubic Lice, Scabies and Trichomoniasis. They can easily infect the bladder, urethra, vagina and cervix.
How to Protect Yourself:
- Correctly and consistently use a latex condom if having vaginal or anal intercourse.
- Protection is available for oral sex. For men, wearing a condom when receiving oral sex helps to prevent the transmission of infections. Women can use a sheet of latex called a dental dam when receiving oral sex.
- Have regular check ups to screen for infections, especially if you are with a new partner.
- Never share needles.
- Be aware of the common signs of a STD and inform your doctor if you see any symptoms.
- Alcohol and drugs can impact good judgment around sexual behaviors. Having a clear head is important in making good decisions regarding health and well being.
- Be especially careful of having sex with someone who has many sexual partners.
- Don't become overly casual about your sexual activities and the potential risks that are inherent in having sex with strangers or people that you do not have a trusting relationship with.
In conclusion, experimentation is a normal part of sexual development and often something that occurs after a spinal cord injury. For many people, sexual activity can be unplanned, sporadic and spontaneous. In addition to the pleasure associated with sex, we all need to remember the risks that are also associated with certain behaviors.
Finally, having a sexually transmitted disease or infection is a medical problem, not a moral one. We all have an obligation to protect ourselves from a STD and avoid passing along an infection to a partner.