Before it's too late.
Whether you’re thinking of marriage, a casual relationship or even a one-night-stand, it’s always best to be in the know about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Here are some questions to ask that can make a healthy difference in an intimate relationship.
What exactly is STD/ STI? (Sorry, it’s not only HIV)
An STI is an infection passed from one person to another through sexual contact. It can be transferred through kissing (depending on the infection), oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex, any contact between a woman’s genital area and man’s, and any contact between a woman’s genital area and a man’s mouth or vice versa.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is not strictly a STD, but it can be transmitted through heterosexual or homosexual contact. You can also get it through blood or bodily fluid transmission such a blood transfusion, by intravenous drug users sharing needles or a tattoo parlour using the same needles on different clients. For example, a famous paediatrician in the early ’80s got HIV through a blood transfusion after she met with an accident as at that time their screening protocols were not that stringent.
On another note, there is also vertical transmission where a pregnant lady with HIV can pass it onto her unborn baby either before or during the birth, and far less commonly, during breast feeding. Once infected, and if the child reaches adulthood, she can pass it onto her partner sexually or to her child vertically.
Therefore, HIV is not an STD in the truest sense as there are other modes of transmission, emphasized Dr. Nilani Kaluarachi, MB ChB (UK), D.R.C.O.G (UK), DFFP (UK).
With other STDs, sexual contact is required to catch a disease. So, rest assured, you won’t catch a disease just by sitting on public toilet seats.
In fact, the only way HIV is connected to the topic of a STD is that it can be spread through sexual contact and it is a multisystem disease, whereas herpes, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts, and trichomoniasis are types that primarily affect the genital parts.
I just met someone, how do I find out if they’re STD free?
Out of the entire lot, it’s comparatively easy to spot herpes, which is a form of STD that develops cold sores around the mouth or ulcers in the genital area. However, the ulcers can be very small and the virus can still be transmitted when the ulcers are invisible as once you get it, you carry the virus for life and you can’t predict when it will reactivate.
Since oral sex is common, if you have HSV 1 (the type of herpes that causes cold sores around the mouth) and you give a blow job to someone, then you can spread it to the other person’s genital area. Alternatively, you could be totally okay and have oral sex with someone who has HSV 2 (the type that develops around the genital area) and get affected by the infection through genital contact. Similarly, a mother can spread it to her children by kissing the child on the mouth, who will, in turn, pass it on to others.
For other symptoms, look down! Ladies, look for discharge (smelly ones, too) which is generally apparent for gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and less so for chlamydia. In addition to that, warts (that look like cauliflowers), cold sores (that look like blisters), painful urination, tummy pain and even pubic lice are signs that can be spotted. In men, penile ulcers, offensive discharge, bleeding, warts and swelling in testicles can help you spot it.
“These are all signs that you will be able to easily spot, but there are symptoms that you should find out from your partner, like pain when passing urine,” explained Dr. Nilani.
In some instances, you or your partner might carry a specific virus but not present any symptoms. So, Dr. Nilani suggests swabs and even a blood test to check for STDs before getting sexually involved.
How do you test for STDs?
Dr. Nilani highly recommends the National STD/AIDS Control Programme which is a local service that ensures good quality sexual health in Sri Lanka. Contacting them will provide an easy and cost effective and confidential direction to anyone seeking help in this matter.
Usually, ladies can contact a general practitioner (GP), a gynaecologist or venereologist (specialist for sexually transmitted infections), while men can reach out to a GP or venereologist.
How long does it take for the infection present itself through a test or for you to start showing symptoms?
Every disease is different. For instance, the time from exposure to the bacteria until symptoms develop for gonorrhea is usually 2-5 days, but can be as long as 30 days.
Then, we have the very difficult chlamydia which often doesn’t even show symptoms. It’s so scary that you might never know you have it until you do a screening test. If it’s unrecognized, it can ascend into the pelvic area causing infection which can lead to difficulty conceiving later in life.
Herpes takes 5 to 10 days to become active (averaging 5). According to Dr. Nilani, the usual incubation period for common STDs is between a minimum of 2 days to a maximum of 30-90, generally within a couple of weeks. However, it can take 3 to 6 months to identify HIV through a blood test and the symptoms of AIDS may only start showing after many years, often about 10.
Are Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) fatal?
There’s never an easy, straight up answer. But, herpes stays for life and may become fatal if you’re too old or young or coupled with other diseases like cancer. However, infections like syphilis, gonorrhoea and viral warts can be treated and with full recovery. But, as with any infection, can be fatal in the very young, very old and immune compromised.
HIV used to be a death sentence but now you prolong life with anti-retroviral medication. Sex is possible with condoms and provided your partner is willing to take the risk.
What are the key ways to keep away from STIs?
Always use condoms irrespective of the fact of whether you’re using it for contraception or not. A couple of things to look for is not using the same condom again and being reckless when having sex in the shower or bath as the condom can easily slip off.
It’s always in your best interest to get checked out. As much as you’d prefer to skip the trip to the doctor, there is nothing else that can give you a sense of relief than clearing any doubt. Thus, a visit to the clinic every year can make a huge difference to you and your partner. Another key way to steer clear of a STI is to avoid sex with someone who is affected by the infection.
How do you stay up-to-date about STDs?
Just like any topic, this is not something that you learn about once and forget. The preferred methods of continuous learning are talking to doctors, teachers and sexual health counsellors.
There is so much that you can learn from the internet but if you feel like it’s too much information, Dr. Nilani suggestions the following: The National STD/AIDS Control Programme is a huge source that sheds light on the common domestic STDs like herpes and syphilis. Then, the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka is another credible source. And, you can also check out the NHS Health website (based in the UK) that provides A-Z facts on all the common types of STIs that you need to know.
Ultimately, being intimate has its fair share of concerns like keeping a close eye out for STDs if you have multiple partners. However, with a little effort and by asking the hard questions from your partner, you can steer clear from lifelong infections, a loss of a sexually active lifestyle and, in a worst-case scenario, anything that may be fatal. Remember, prevention is always better than seeking out a cure!
This article was originally published as “Your STD Questions, Answered” in the January 2019 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more fashion advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
Words: Sumaiya Shuaibdeen
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