Cooties They Are Not: How to Reduce the Risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Many women come into our practice either having contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or worried about contracting one. Some STIs (previously known as STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases) are curable, others are not. In any case, the only surefire means of prevention is abstinence, and since most people will not be sexually abstinent in the long-term, everyone needs to be aware about risk reduction for STIs. Anyone sexually active must know that there is always a potential to contract an STI, which sometimes can affect them for life.

How are STIs Contracted?

Sexually transmitted infections are passed via sexual or oral contact. This can mean any of the following: Sexual intercourse, oral-genital contact, hand-genital contact, and sometime even just kissing on the lips.

Some of the more well-known STIs include:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Viral Hepatitis (Hep B & Hep C)
  • Chlamydia
  • Genital Herpes
  • Syphilis
  • Bacterial Vaginosis
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis

Risk-Reduction Methods

STI risk can be reduced via sexual activity practice, which includes symptom awareness — i.e. being fully educated about the signs of STIs.

Symptoms
 Be on the lookout for the following STI symptoms, and do not have sexual intercourse with anyone who has any of these physical signs.

  • Genital sores
  • Genital itching, burning, or discomfort
  • Vaginal discharge in women
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Feeling pressure in the abdomen.
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms. This is very common in everyday life, yet people are not aware that it could signify an STI.

Sexual Activity
 
Here are sexual habits which might drastically reduce the chance of STIs:

  1. Limit partners — ideally to one. The best way to be sexually active while preventing STIs is to be in a monogamous relationship where each partner has tested negative for all STIs. (Note that some tests, such as for HIV antibodies, will only show a positive result after at least 3 months of infection.) Even still, one can test negative and later on contract an STI unintentionally, such as via kissing a relative or friend, or by unhygienic practices where sexual bodily fluids are present. Therefore, even monogamy is not a sure-fire means of STI prevention.
  2. Use a condom for every act of intercourse. Note that condoms are not 100% protective against STIs (or while we’re at it, similarly, against pregnancy.) Also condoms do not help prevent the STIs that can be passed by kissing with open mouth sores, such as chlamydia.
  3. If you have open sores on or in your mouth:

a. Do not kiss. Since several STIs can be passed via saliva to open sores, not engaging in kissing will alleviate the chances of infection. While this normal activity is a routine part of most relationships, couples wishing to prevent STI contagion will need to figure out interacting without kissing. Sad, but true.

b. Use a male or female condom for oral-genital contact. Since many STIs can be passed to open sores in the mouth, it is imperative to have protection for this type of sexual activity as well.

STIs are tricky and can affect anyone — the best you can do is lower the risk. By being aware of symptoms, maintaining monogamy, and being as protected as possible, your chances of contracting an STI will be lower. If you have any symptoms of an STI, see your doctor immediately for assessment.


Originally published at www.miamiobgyns.com.