Since the “sexual revolution” and introduction of sex education to public school curriculum, there is now a generation of young adults who are very knowledgeable about STDs. Armed with this knowledge, many make sexual health decisions that are information-based and presumptively correct. So why are STDs still so prevalent and increasing in the U.S. population who are aged 25 years-old and younger?Do you think you are knowledgeable enough about STDs to make safe decisions in your sexual life? Try this quiz…
1. TRUE or FALSE: My partner and I are virgins- that means that we can’t give each other STDs.
2. TRUE or FALSE: My partner and I went to our respective doctors and were checked for STDs before we had sex. If our tests are all negative that means we are clean and can be together without worrying about STDs. Right?
3. TRUE or FALSE: My new partner has only been with one person in the past and has never had any symptoms of STDs. It’s probably safe to skip the condom.
The answers to all of these are FALSE. Surprised? Read on.
Preventing STDs involves a conscious decision to avoid both contracting and transmitting infections in our intimate relationships. Most STDs are caused by bacteria or viruses. These organisms are usually found in and around the genitals, mouth, or anus of an infected partner.
Bacterial infections can be cured with antibiotics. Viral infections can be managed by medications, but cannot be cured. Both types of infections can be transmitted from person to person by direct contact with the genitals, mouth, or anus of an infected person or the secretions from these areas. Some infections can be passed by contact with blood or broken skin. Even toothbrushes and razors can transmit viruses like Hepatitis B when they are shared. Cold sores on the mouth contain the Herpes virus and can be passed to a partner’s genitals by mouth-to-genital contact.
So, to really avoid contracting any STD you should:
1. Use condoms or dental dams so there is no direct contact with your partner’s genitals, mouth or anus.
2. Avoid contact with a person that has any rashes, sores, bumps, or discharge.
3. Avoid mouth and genital contact with a partner’s cold sores.
4. Don’t share or leave personal products such as toothbrushes or razors around to be used by others.
5. Get the complete Hepatitis B immunization series (three shots).
Now, about transmitting (passing on) STDs: what is your responsibility to a partner? Avoiding transmission of STDs is complicated by the very real fact that many infections are present and contagious without any symptoms. They are passed unknowingly to a partner.
These asymptomatic (without symptoms) infections are most dangerous to women because they can silently lead to menstrual changes, cervical cancer, pelvic infection with scarring and infertility, tubal pregnancy, and chronic pain. To avoid transmitting STDs to partners:
1. Follow the steps above. If you avoid getting infections, you won’t transmit them.
2. See a provider for a frank discussion of your past sexual behaviors and get tested. Insist that you know what is being tested for and what is not. This applies to males and females.
3. Seek prompt medical care for any rashes, sores, discharges, and bumps.
4. Sexually active women should have regular (once a year) gynecologic checkups which should include a PAP smear, discussion of STD testing, and assessment of risk.
There are certainly high risk groups more prone to certain STDs (IV drug users, prostitutes, bisexuals, gay men, those who interact with multiple partners over time without condoms), however, anyone who is sexually intimate with another person is at risk to acquire an STD.
The only absolute protection is abstinence from any behavior that involves intimate contact or contact with blood and body secretions. The reality is that we have a human need to seek intimacy in our relationships and must choose what we are willing to risk to achieve this intimacy. Condoms and dental dams certainly provide both partners with protection to the areas that are covered. When condoms are not used, there is a risk. As in so many things it is a very personal choice. It is your choice.