Sexual health information

What are STIs and how to protect against them?

Looking after your sexual health is important. It’s more than just being aware of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, it’s about practising safe sex, having regular checkups and being open and honest with your sexual partners. 

 

Sexually transmitted infections 

One of the most important things to know about STIs is that you can’t always tell who has one. Some of the most common infections produce no symptoms at all, so you could easily catch one without realising. A new partner might shrug off the risk, thinking that if they haven’t noticed anything amiss then they are probably STI free. The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Using a condom is the only way to protect both yourself and your sexual partner/s from catching or spreading STIs. 

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Contraception and birth control 

There are many different choices out there for contraceptives. When you are becoming sexually active in a heterosexual relationship you need to think about birth control as well as protecting against STIs. Condoms are the only option which will protect against both. In a committed relationship where you are both certain of your sexual health, long term options for preventing unwanted pregnancy may be more suitable. These include: 

  • The pill
  • The injection 
  • The contraceptive impact 
  • IUD/IUS (the coil) 
  • The patch or vaginal ring 
  • Diaphragm or cap 

Many women use a long term contraceptive in combination with condoms. 

 

Protecting against STIs 

There are a few options available for protecting against STIs, depending on your sexual preferences. 

  • Male condom: this is inserted over the length of a man’s penis and used during penetrative sex and oral sex
  • Female condom: this works in a similar way, except it’s inserted into the vagina 
  • Dental dam: this is a square-shaped piece of latex which is placed over the vagina, labia or anus during oral sex 

 

How do I know if I have an STI? 

While the only way to know for sure is to get tested, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for. These include: 

  • An unusual discharge 
  • Pain or discomfort when urinating 
  • Lumps, bumps or blisters around the genitals 
  • Itching 
  • Unusual bleeding from the vagina 
  • Lower abdominal pain 
  • Pain or tingling around the genitals 

If a current or recent sexual partner has been diagnosed with an STI then this means you might have one too and should get tested. You can visit a sexual health clinic or order an STI testing kit online to do at home.

 

What types of STIs are there? 

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are two of the most common STIs which are spread through bodily fluids. In most cases, chlamydia doesn’t cause symptoms which is why it’s so easily spread. Men are more likely to notice the signs of gonorrhoea than women. 

STIs which produce visible symptoms include: 

  • Genitals warts
  • Herpes
  • Public lice 
  • Syphilis 

There are other types of STIs which are transmitted through blood- these include HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. 

 

What should I do if I have an STI?

If you have tested positive for an STI it’s important that you get treated for it as soon as possible to avoid passing it on. While most infections are not serious, chlamydia can affect your fertility if it’s left too long. HIV is a lifelong disease with serious effects but there is treatment available to manage it. 

You will also need to tell any current or recent partners that you have an STI, as it’s likely that they will have it too. This might not feel like a welcoming task but it’s important so that they can get tested and treated. If your partner doesn’t get treated, and you do, it’s likely that you’ll get re-infected. 

 

Sources

  1. NHS> Sexually Transmitted Infections: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/
  2. Sexual Wellbeing> Types of STIs: https://www.sexualwellbeing.ie/sexual-health/sexually-transmitted-infections/types-of-stis/

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