Living with an STI

How to Avoid an STI

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) comprise a large number of infections one can contract from sexual intercourse as well as other types of sexual contact. There are many different ways to avoid contracting an STI, such as wearing a condom for penetrative sex, using a dental dam for oral sex, as well as practicing abstinence. Getting screened for STIs on a regular basis is also an excellent method of preventing an STI, due to the fact that these tests can provide you with updated information about the status of your sexual health. Being aware of your sexual partners and their sexual histories is an additional factor to consider. It is imperative to select a partner who is open, honest, and willing to discuss the topic of STIs with you. Cutting out risky sexual behavior such as unprotected oral sex or anal sex can also reduce the probability of contracting an STI. Finally, keeping up with required vaccinations and immunizations by checking in with your physician can also prevent the spread of an STI. Overall, there are multiple courses of action one can take to reduce the likelihood of contracting an STI.

Take Preventative Measures in Order to Avoid an STI

Using barrier methods of contraceptives (e.g., male and female condoms) significantly reduces the risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Hormonal contraceptive methods, such as the pill or intrauterine device (IUD), do not protect against STIs, so it is important to use condoms in conjunction with non-barrier methods.  For a list of national hotlines concerning STIs, see our emergency numbers page, or visit www.hivtest.org to locate the HIV testing center nearest you.1

Having safe sexual intercourse is just as important as having pleasurable, intimate sexual intercourse. It is imperative for both partners to take precautions against unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There are various types of contraceptive methods that can be implemented to prevent an unwanted pregnancy from occurring, such as barrier methods (male/female condoms), birth control pills, patches, shots, or even implants like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and Implanon/Nexplanon.Consent is another key aspect to sexual intercourse. Obtaining a clear signal of affirmation such as a “yes” from your partner is absolutely necessary before engaging in any type of sexual intercourse.2

Get Tested for STIs on a Frequent Basis

Getting tested with your partner before engaging in any sexual activity is ideal, as it dramatically decreases the possibility of acquiring or transmitting an STI. We recommend speaking openly and honestly with your partner about getting tested together before engaging in any sexual activity.3

Getting tested together is a great way to ensure that both partners are either STI-free or are aware of any possible conditions and treatment plans. Seeking and acquiring STI testing can be very stressful for some individuals, and having your partner with you for support can help alleviate these anxious feelings. If you believe you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), either from engaging in any form of unprotected sexual activity (e.g., vaginal, anal, or oral sex) or through contact with non-sexual transmission vehicles (e.g., sharing needles), the first step you must take is to seek medical attention.4 Many STIs can be treated and cured in their early stages, so it is important to visit a physician as soon as you begin to exhibit any abnormal physical symptoms (e.g., painful urination, itchy genitals, unusual changes in the color and smell of your discharge, etc.).

Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning they present no clear physical symptoms; therefore it is recommended to get tested after engaging in any sexual activity with a new partner. Your health, and that of your partners, is extremely important, so you should not allow feelings of shame or guilt to discourage you from seeking medical attention as soon as possible.

If financial reasons deter you from seeking medical attention, there are many public health clinics throughout the United States, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide testing and treatment for little or no cost. Many of these free clinics guarantee anonymous services and offer STI testing for those under 18 without parental consent. If you do not live in the United States, you can use certain websites (e.g., thestdproject.com) to find places around you that offer free and anonymous testing.6

If you are diagnosed with an STI, inform your previous and current partner(s) right away so that he or she may be tested and treated as well; not informing partners puts their health and your health at risk. They may experience serious complications from an untreated infection (e.g., pelvic inflammatory disease) or infect others including yourself.

Be Aware of Your Sexual Partners and their Histories

Finding a partner that you can trust is integral to avoiding an STI. It is important to select a partner who is willing to discuss the potential of contracting an STI, open to disclosing their sexual history, enthusiastic about practicing safe sex, and eager to having honest conversations with you. If you are someone who prefers multiple sexual partners, it is all the more important to choose to engage in sexual contact with people who are willing to communicate with you about these urgent topics.

Occasionally, someone may find that their sexual partner is dishonest and informs them that they have never had sex or do not have an STI, when in reality they may have had multiple sexual partners and do have an STI. The greater the number of sexual partners you or your partner have had, the larger the chance you will get an STI.

Avoid Sexual Behavior That Can Increase the Probability of an STI

Try your best to avoid having unprotected sex at all costs. Having oral, vaginal, or anal sex without a condom with an infected individual is incredibly risky and is one of the primary contributors to individuals contracting STIs.

Sexual activity that increases the rate of openings or tears in the skin are also types of behavior one should consider avoiding. For example, excessive anal sex can lead to tears in the rectum. Oral sex while the receiver has sores or cuts in the mouth can also increase the likelihood of the transmission of STIs. Any bodily fluids or ejaculates that eject from the body during sexual intercourse can easily get into these minor wounds. 

Remember to Get Vaccinated

Visiting the doctor on a regular basis and acquiring immunizations to protect your body against STIs is not only beneficial for your sexual health but also your general well-being.

There are all sorts of vaccines available that can prevent the contraction of Hepatitis B, genital herpes, and certain types of HPV.

All in all, there are multiple ways to reduce the risk of an STI or even prevent an STI altogether; these protection strategies include using contraceptive methods, getting testing, being aware of your sexual partners and their sexual histories, avoiding risky sexual behavior, and acquiring regular vaccinations and immunizations from your doctor.

 

What to do if Diagnosed with an STI

If one finds themselves diagnosed with an STI they may find comfort in the fact that STIs are extremely common, and the vast majority of sexually active individuals will contract an STI at some point in their lifetime. Being diagnosed with an STI does not detract from one’s worth as an individual, and it is not a representation of who one is as a person. Having an STI also does not mean that one can never engage in sexual intercourse again; in fact many people with an STI still have sex on a regular basis and maintain healthy, loving relationships. However, practicing safe sex by using the appropriate contraceptive methods and facilitating open, direct communication with one’s significant other are all great ways to prevent getting an STI. Furthermore, medical technology and pharmaceuticals are rapidly advancing and developing. There are all sorts of medications and treatments that can alleviate the symptoms of an STI. All in all, STIs are an important aspect of being sexually active. Being aware of the ways in which one can avoid an STI, the methods on how to converse with a partner about STIs, as well as the diverse amounts of treatments and health care plans available for people with STIs are fantastic steps toward becoming more educated about the subject matter.

Do Not Panic

It is natural to feel upset when one is informed that they have an STI. Sadness, anger, fear, and worry are all common emotions that one experiences when they receive their diagnosis. You are entitled to your feelings, and every emotion and reaction that you have is valid.

However, it is important to be aware that STIs impact tens of millions of individuals on a yearly basis, and there are currently over a hundred million people with an infection. The vast majority of STIs are completely treatable. There are various actions an individual can take to prevent another STI in the future and to undergo the proper medical treatments to alleviate the symptoms of an infection.7

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are an exceptionally prevalent issue that impacts the lives of 19.7 million individuals in the United States on an annual basis. The good news is that the majority of these STIs will not cause harm. Only the minority can actually lead to serious health problems if they are not diagnosed and treated early. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most likely to be affected by an STI, as they account for 50 percent of all new STI cases, while only representing 25 percent of the sexually active population.8

Overall, more than 110 million men and women nationwide have either a new or existing infection. Some of the most common infections, such as the herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are very treatable.8

     

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common STI, and while there is no treatment for the virus itself, there are a multitude of treatments available for diseases that it can potentially cause. There are also a variety of vaccines to prevent certain types of HPV infections.8

Understand the Differences Between an STI and an STD

There are a number of factors that can help an individual properly define what a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is.

Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish between a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Having an STI means that an individual has an infection; however, that infection has not developed into a disease yet. For example, if an individual is infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), they are usually asymptomatic, even though the virus is in their body. At that moment, this individual has an STI. However, if she develops cervical cancer from the HPV infection, she now has an STD. Another instance is if an individual contracts bacterial infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, they have an STI. A person may have chlamydia or gonorrhea and exhibit symptoms, however, this is still considered an STI unless it begins to cause severe reproductive and health-related issues. Thus, if either of these infections develop into pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), this individual now has an STD.9

A scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (the green spheres) growing from a cultured lymphocyte.

 

In summary, one can think of an infection as the first step of a disease. It occurs when bacteria, viruses, or microbes enter the body and begin to multiply. It is only when the typical body function and structure are disrupted that the condition will be considered a disease.

Therefore, all STDs are STIs at the very beginning. It is only when they disturb the function and structure of a patient’s body that they are considered an STD.

Communicate With Your Partner

After understanding what exactly an STI is, it is imperative for you to relay your health status to your romantic and/or sexual partner. There are many ways in which you can provide this crucial information to the people with whom you have been sexually active.

We recommend that you have a direct conversation with your partner. A few ways to start this communication is to tell them the specific kind of STI that you were diagnosed with, to inform them about the types of possible treatments that your physician recommends, and to encourage them to get screened for an STI as well. These dialogues can be difficult to have, especially if one is apprehensive about giving their partner news about the status of an infection.10

Another tip to aid effective communication with your sexual partner is to put yourself in their shoes. If your partner had an STI, you would most likely want to know. Even taking medication and using protection during sexual intercourse does not deter your responsibility of informing your partner. Although your STI can be asymptomatic, the infection can still be passed to other people    

Writing out a script or even rehearsing the conversation in your head can be great ways to organize your thoughts and practice your delivery. You can also decide whether or not you want to tell your partner in person, over the phone, or through a message.​Oftentimes, it is difficult to inform your partner that you have an STI in a direct person-to-person conversation, and communicating this information through a call, an e-mail, or a text can be viable alternatives.

The best way to convey this news is to inform your partner of your diagnosis before you have sexual contact. You can start the conversation by asking your partner if they have the time to talk with you. Begin by stating that you were diagnosed with an STI. You can then explain the details of the condition. Oftentimes, it is helpful for some partners to know the specifics of a situation. Advise them that they should also seek medical attention and acquire the proper tests and screenings.10 After the dialogue, give both yourself and your partner some time. The news may be shocking and hard to hear for some people, and it is completely normal for them to take a break to recollect their thoughts. In the meantime, try to address your own anxiety over the situation by reducing stress, trying relaxation activities and breathing techniques, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through diet, sleep, and exercise.10

 

Seek Out the Appropriate Medical Intervention

It is important to follow doctor’s and pharmacist’s orders exactly as described. Often, a medicine regime can alleviate symptoms of an STI, but it is crucial that the medication is taken in its entirety in the method and manner prescribed.11

Certain STIs (e.g., scabies and pubic lice) require critical steps in a treatment regime such as washing sheets and clothes, that must also be followed in order to avoid reinfection.  It is also important to avoid having unprotected sex while receiving treatment in order to avoid transmission.

You should not resume sexual activity until you have completed the treatment and are no longer infectious. For incurable STIs, including herpes and HIV/AIDs, it is important to see your physician regularly and abide by his or her orders and recommendations. These diseases may require more attention and continued treatment, but with the proper care and a positive attitude, the patient can experience a safe and healthy sex life.12 Ultimately, there are many courses of action one can take once they are diagnosed with an STI, such as maintaining a calm state of mind, understanding and researching the STI they have, informing their partner through effective communication techniques, and undergoing the proper medical treatments.

 

References

  1. Parenthood, Planned. “Birth Control Methods & Options | Types of Birth Control.”Planned Parenthood. N.p., n.d. Web.
  2.  What Consent Looks Like | RAINN. N.p., n.d. Web.
  3. “The Difference Between STDs and STIs.” Beforeplay.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
  4. “How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. N.p., n.d. Web.  June 2017.
  5. “Partner Communication.” Advocates for Youth. N.p., n.d. Web.
  6. "Global STD Testing Locations (Outside of the US)." The STD Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
  7. “Incidence, Prevalence, and Cost of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the United States.” Center of Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 2008.
  8. "STD Testing | Facts on STD Testing Procedures." STD Testing | Facts on STD Testing Procedures. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
  9. “Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web.  16 Jan. 2018.
  10. "When One Partner Is HIV+." When One Partner Is HIV+. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2015.
  11. “Get Tested.” Asha Sexual Health, American Sexual Health Association. N.p., n.d. Web.
  12.  “SECTION V: Sexually Transmitted Infections.” Technical Issues In Reproductive Health, Columbia University. N.p., n.d. Web.

Last Updated: 1 March 2018.

Category: