Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
What Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
Sexually transmitted diseases, also called sexually transmitted infections, STDs, or venereal diseases, are not conditions that are often discussed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these conditions affect millions of people in our country. Because statistics demonstrate that women are among the most severely impacted by STDs, the conversation regarding screening and prevention is one of the most important aspects of women’s health care.
Every person who is sexually active is encouraged to obtain STD testing. Age is not a determining factor, nor is the type of sexual intercourse or sexual orientation. Vaginal, anal, and oral sexual contact creates a risk for sexually transmitted disease in both heterosexual and homosexual couples.
STD screening is vital because it is possible to become infected and pass along infection to your partner without your knowledge.
STD screening can be an important part of your routine checkup with your gynecologist. If you have unprotected sex and want to be tested, speak with your healthcare provider about appropriate timing. It can take several days to several weeks for the infection to develop. Testing too soon could mean an inaccurate result.
Types of STDs: Bacterial vs Viral
There are several conditions that are categorized as sexually transmitted. Individual diseases fall into two types: bacterial or viral. This is an important matter because only one type of STD can be cured.
- Bacterial infections transmitted through sexual contact can typically be treated with medication. These include STDs such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.
- Viral STDs cannot be cured with medication. These conditions require ongoing management to control symptoms. Examples of viral sexually transmitted infection include HPV or human papillomavirus (may cause genital warts), Herpes, Hepatitis B, and HIV.
In many cases, an STD may develop without presenting clear symptoms. Those that do occur, if they occur, are related to the type of infection that has occurred.
An STD may present physical symptoms such as itching or sores, or it may occur without symptoms. HPV, for example, is a common infection that can increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, and yet offer no indication of disease. Hepatitis is another example of a somewhat asymptomatic sexually transmitted disease. This condition affects the liver and may incite symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and nausea.
See your healthcare provider if you suspect you have been exposed to an STD, or if you or your partner have symptoms such as:
- Unexplained rash.
- Growths, blisters, or bumps in the genital area, including the vagina and external genitalia, the penis, and the testicles, and the area between the testicles or vagina and the anus.
- Frequent urination or burning sensation with urination.
- Bleeding in between periods.
- Painful intercourse.
- Vaginal or penile discharge outside of sexual intercourse.
I Am a Virgin. Do I Still Need to Be Screened for STDs?
There is a common theory that one is a virgin if she does not have vaginal intercourse. Sexually transmitted disease can be passed from one partner to another via oral or anal sex, as well. Some infections can be spread through genital contact. Therefore, if you have had any type of sexual contact with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner, STD screening is recommended.
Does My Partner Need to Be Tested, Too?
It is ideal for both partners to obtain STD screening, whether together or separately; but at or near the same time. One infected partner puts the other at risk, even if that partner is treated for his or her infection. Single-partner testing can create an endless cycle of infection.
My Partner and I Use Condoms. Do We Still Need to Be Tested for STDs?
Condoms are not 100% effective against all sexually transmitted diseases, though they do provide the best protection that is available. A condom may decrease your risk of contracting fluid-borne STD, one that is present in vaginal secretions or semen. However, a condom provides minimal protection against infections that can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.
Are Public Toilets a Risk Factor for Contracting an STD?
Research suggests that public restrooms are not high-risk contributors to sexually transmitted disease, even those passed through skin-to-skin contact.