Ignorance can facilitate the spread of many diseases, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) being good examples of this. I bet you thought the only way you could get one of these is by having sexual intercourse - but that isn’t necessarily true.
Some STDs, like herpes or genital warts, may be contracted through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore. Another myth many young people believe is that you can’t get them if you have oral or anal sex.
WRONG! Viruses or bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genital area.
Sexually transmitted diseases are caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus. They can be very painful, irritating, debilitating, and some are even life threatening. They are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States today, with more than 20 different types currently identified.
Sexually transmitted diseases affect more than 13 million men and women in the U.S., with the majority occurring in people under age 30. More than 65 million of those infected have an incurable form of an STD. And while they can’t all be cured, they can all be prevented.
To prevent STDs you must first understand how you get them. It’s extremely unlikely that you would get any of the sexually transmitted diseases from something like a toilet seat.
Most STDs are transmitted only during sexual contact - by skin-to-skin contact or through an exchange of bodily fluids. The microorganisms that cause STDs tend to be highly sensitive to environmental conditions and can’t survive outside the human body for very long.
The STDs caused by bacteria can be successfully treated and cured; these include chlamydia, gonorrhea, Pelvic Inflammatory Diseases (PID), syphilis and trichomoniasis.
Others are caused by a virus and have no current cure; they include genital herpes, genital warts (HPV), hepatitis B and C and AIDS.
Understanding the basic facts about STDs - the ways in which they are spread, their common symptoms, and how they can be treated - is the first step toward prevention. It is, therefore, important to understand the five key points (common in all STDs) listed below:
1. While STDs affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels, they are most prevalent among teenagers and young adults - with nearly two-thirds of all STDs occurring in people younger than 25 years of age.
2. The incidence of STDs is rising and this may be due to several factors. Young people today have become sexually active earlier, yet are marrying later, and divorce is much more common. The net result is that sexually active people today are more likely to have multiple sex partners during their lives and are potentially at greater risk for developing STDs.
3. In some cases, STDs may not have noticeable symptoms - particularly in women. And when symptoms do develop, they may be confused with those of other diseases not transmitted through sexual contact. But even when an STD does not cause symptoms, a person who is infected may be able to pass the disease on to their sex partner.
4. Health problems caused by STDs tend to be more severe and more frequent for women than for men. A lack of, or minor, symptoms early in the disease may mean that many women do not seek care until serious problems have developed. Examples include:
- Some STDs can spread into the uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes resulting in PID, which is a major cause of both infertility and ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. The latter can be fatal.
- STDs in women may also be associated with cervical cancer. One STD, the human papilloma virus (HPV), can causes genital warts and lead to cervical and other genital cancers if left unnoticed.
- STDs can be passed from a mother to her baby before, during, or immediately after birth. And while some of these infections can be easily cured in newborns, others may cause a baby to be permanently disabled or even die.
5. When diagnosed and treated early, most STDs can be treated effectively, but some have become resistant to the drugs used to treat them and now require different types of antibiotics.
6. Experts believe that having STDs increases the risk for becoming infected with the AIDS virus.
The best way to prevent STDs is to avoid sexual contact with others. If you decide to be sexually active, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing an STD. They are:
- Have a mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner.
- Delay having sexual relations as long as possible. The younger people are when having sex for the first time, the more susceptible they become to developing an STD. The risk of acquiring an STD also increases with the number of partners over a lifetime.
- Correctly and consistently use a male condom.
- Avoid drugs and use clean needles if injecting intravenous drugs.
- Prevent and control other STDs to decrease susceptibility to HIV infection and reduce your infectiousness if you are HIV-infected.
If you are sexually active, you should:
- Have regular checkups for STDs even in the absence of symptoms, and especially if having sex with a new partner. These tests can be done during a routine visit to your health care provider’s office.
- Learn about the common symptoms of STDs. Seek medical help immediately if any suspicious symptoms develop, even if they are mild.
- Avoid having sex during menstruation. HIV-infected women are probably more infectious, and uninfected women are probably more susceptible to becoming infected during that time.
- Avoid anal intercourse, but if practiced, use a male condom.
- Avoid douching because it removes some of the normal protective bacteria in the vagina and increases the risk of getting some STDs.
Untreated STDs can be very painful and make you very ill - some can even cause death. They can also make it hard for women to get pregnant and for men to father a child. The presence of STDs can cause birth defects and health problems in newborns.
So don’t be embarrassed or frightened to ask for help or information about sexually transmitted diseases; the earlier a person seeks treatment and warns sex partners about the disease, the less likely the disease will do irreparable physical damage, infect others or, in the case of a woman, be passed on to a newborn baby.