Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s)
You may have heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Several of the statistics are particularly alarming, such as this one: One in four teens in the United States contracts an STD or STI every year.
To make matters worse, some STIs often have no obvious symptoms.
But there is good news as well: STIs can be prevented. Using a latex condom every time you have sex — whether vaginal, anal, or oral — can help protect you from contracting an STI.
This page contains plenty of basic information about STIs, but if you think you’ve been exposed to someone with an STI — or even if you’ve simply had unprotected sex — talk it over as soon as possible with your healthcare provider. Testing can help you know for sure, and prompt treatment can usually prevent STI complications from permanently damaging your body.
What is a Sexually Transmitted Infection?
Sexually transmitted infections are illnesses that have a significant probability of transmission by sexual behavior, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. Some STIs can also be transmitted via the use of needles that have been used by an infected person. Some STIs can also be transmitted through childbirth or breastfeeding.
What Sexual Activities Put Me at Risk For a STI?
Having unprotected sex — vaginal or anal sex without a condom — can put you at risk of getting an STI. You can also get some STIs from unprotected oral sex.
Some sexual activities put you at greater risk than others. Riskier activities include unprotected sex:
• with casual partners (the more partners, the greater the risk)
• with a partner who has had unprotected sex with casual partners
• when travelling in certain countries
• with a partner who has injected drugs
What Are the Different STIs?
Following is a partial list of sexually transmitted infections.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
BV is a disease of the vagina caused by certain bacteria. The most common symptom is an off-white, smelly discharge, although there may be no symptoms at all. BV is common in pregnant women, and it can affect women who have never had sex. BV can cause birth complications and increase a woman’s susceptibility to other STIs.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States. It mainly infects the penis, vagina and anus. Most people who have Chlamydia have no symptoms, so they do not know they have it. Sexually active females 25 years old and younger should be tested for chlamydia every year. If untreated, it can affect a woman’s ability to have children.
A common STI, genital herpes is caused by a virus, which is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during genital or oral sex. Some people don’t experience any symptoms, but the virus can cause blisters or sores on the skin. There is no cure for herpes, but treatment can reduce symptoms and decrease the risk of transmission to others.
The wart virus, which has many different strains, is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during genital sex. Genital warts are a very common STI.
Gonorrhoea is a bacteria that can infect the penis, vagina, anus and throat. Not everyone gets symptoms, but the most common symptom is a discharge from the penis, vagina or anus. If untreated, it can interfere with a woman’s ability to have children.
Hepatitis A is an acute (short-term) viral infection that affects the liver. It can be spread sexually, usually if there has been anal contact with a person who has the infection.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that results in inflammation of the liver. It can be passed on by unprotected vaginal or anal sex, by sharing needles, or by unsterile tattooing or body piercing.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that affects the liver. It is spread by blood-to-blood contact. Transmission during sex is possible but unlikely, unless blood is present.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
HIV is a viral infection that breaks down the body’s natural defenses against infections by weakening the immune system. HIV can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is found in the blood, vaginal secretions and/or semen of a person with the virus. It can be passed on by unprotected sex or by sharing needles.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID is caused when certain bacteria, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, move into her reproductive organs. Prompt treatment of PID (and any underlying STI) can help prevent complications, including permanent damage to reproductive organs.
Pubic lice (crabs)
Pubic lice are small parasites that can infest pubic hair, armpits or chest hair. They are passed on by person-to-person contact with the area that is infested, not necessarily during sexual contact.
Scabies is an infestation of the skin by a tiny mite. Scabies is usually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, including but not limited to sex.
Syphilis is transmitted during sexual contact with a person who has the infection. Symptoms can include firm, round, small, and painless sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth, or a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet. It is very important to treat syphilis to avoid complications.
Trichomoniasis is a common but easily treated STI that may result in unusual genital discharge. It may have no symptoms at all. Lack of treatment can cause birth complications or increase the risk of acquiring HIV.