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What do you know about STDs?

Love means not sharing some things …

YOU can share a car, a house, a pet and a bed with your partner. But are you sharing more than you should? I am posing this question to both men and women, as both sexes can be affected by Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). STDs are actually a group of infections spread by sexual contact. Apart from colds and the flu, STDs are among the most widespread diseases in the world – and probably cause the most embarrassment and fear as well.

The most well-known, and dangerous, STD is the HIV infection, which causes AIDS. Other common STDs include chlamydia, genital herpes, genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV), gonorrhea, hepatitis B, syphilis, trichomoniasis, hepatitis C, cytomegalovirus, scabies, and pubic lice. A majority of all STDs – two-thirds, in fact – occur in people younger than 25 years old, with younger people being more experimental and bold when it comes to sexual activity.

Despite the supposed sexual sophistication, however, some people can be still quite naïve when it comes to STDs. You can get an STD from someone who is infected if you have sexual contact that involves the genitals, the mouth (oral) or the rectum (anal). Don’t just assume that your sexual partner is “clean”, especially if he is not your long-term partner. You are more likely to be exposed to STDs if you have multiple sex partners or do not use condoms.

The saddest part is that an innocent baby may unwittingly be the victim of STDs, through non-sexual contact with the mother, such as during delivery or breastfeeding. Don’t ever shrug or laugh off an STD. Most of them can be cured, but you have to seek proper medical treatment. Unfortunately, some STDs, such as HIV and syphilis, can cause death.

What do you know about STD symptoms?

Not all STDs show up as disgusting or disfiguring symptoms on your genitalia. Even something as benign as urination problems should alert you to a possible infection.

Symptoms in women include:

  • Change in vaginal discharge (thicker, discoloured, or foul-smelling) over a period of several days to two weeks
  • Pain, burning, or itching while urinating that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Fever
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain or a feeling of heaviness in the pelvic or lower abdominal area
  • Itching, tingling, burning, or pain in the genitals
  • Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts on or around the genitals
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • General symptoms of an infection, such as fever and fatigue or lack of energy

Symptoms in men include:

  • Painful urination (this is often the first symptom)
  • Fever
  • Cloudy urine
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis
  • Crusting at the tip of the penis
  • Sores, lumps, blisters, rashes, or warts on or around the genitals
  • Pain, swelling, or tenderness in the scrotum (epididymitis)
  • Itching, tingling, pain, or burning of the genitals
  • Deep pelvic ache (prostatitis)

If you notice any of these signs and symptoms, go to your doctor immediately. You should avoid having sexual contact with anyone until you have had these symptoms checked out and treated. In some cases, you may only get symptoms days, weeks, months or years (as with HIV) after exposure. Unfortunately, once you have been exposed, unknowingly or otherwise, you cannot reduce the risk you now have of getting an infection.

What do you know about STD complications?

Besides the painful symptoms, STDs can cause serious complications in a woman. One main complication is pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious condition where a woman’s reproductive organs are inflamed or infected. This disease is serious because it may lead to infertility, an ectopic pregnancy, pelvic abscess or chronic pelvic pain.

STDs are even more dangerous in pregnant women, as they could cause miscarriage, low birth weight baby, premature delivery or infections in the newborn baby, such as pneumonia, eye infections, or nervous system problems. These infections may threaten the life of your baby or cause serious long-term problems or disabilities.

What do you know about avoiding STDs?

The smartest thing to do is to protect yourself from STDs, by avoiding high-risk sexual behaviour. If you are embarking on a sexual relationship with someone, be aware that you could get an STD from him. Unless you have been in a long-term, single-partner relationship, always use condoms during any sexual encounter. And remember: it is not just intercourse, but even mouth-to-genital and anal sexual contact that could pass on infections.

You should also stay away from early sexual activity (before the age of 18), have multiple sex partners, and have a partner who has multiple sex partners or other risk factors (such as using drugs). Once you become sexually active, you should adopt the practice of examining your genitals once a month. This will help you know what is normal for you, and when you may have symptoms of an STD.

For men, look for any areas of redness, sores, bumps, warts, or blisters in your genital area; look closely at and feel the entire surface of your penis, scrotum, and anus. If you are not circumcised, pull back your foreskin covering the head of your penis and look carefully at the head of your penis; use a mirror to help you look at the underside of your penis, your scrotum, and anus; look for discharge from the penis; check the testicles for swelling and tenderness; separate your pubic hair with your fingers so you can see the skin underneath the hair.

For women, look for any areas of redness, sores, bumps, warts, or blisters in your genital area; separate your pubic hair and look closely at the skin underneath; use a mirror to see your entire genital area; look carefully at the skin on the inside of your legs and around your genitals; separate the fleshy lips that cover your clitoris and look carefully at all the exposed skin; hold open the lips of the vagina and look carefully at the inside of the lips as well as the opening to the vagina. It may be helpful to feel each of these areas with your fingers as you view them, so that you can be aware of any areas of rough skin or bumps.

What if you think you have an STD?

Don’t try to treat yourself! Some women use douches to “clean” themselves if they think they have an infection – this may make things worse and spread the infection up into your uterus or fallopian tubes. If you know or suspect that you have been exposed to an STD, or if you experience the symptoms described above, see your doctor for advice. You should go to a doctor you are comfortable with, such as your usual GP or your gynaecologist (for women).

Even if you are in a long-term relationship with someone, having an STD may be something you can’t bring yourself to talk to him about. This is perfectly understandable, as a sexually transmitted infection can be very personal and embarrassing. However, you have to talk to him and your doctor about this, because you should not risk passing on your infection to him. Your doctor will be able to advise you and your partner about safe sex practices until your infection has cleared. Sometimes, love means not sharing some things.

The Star Newspaper, Sunday June 24, 2007

BY DR NOR ASHIKIN MOKHTAR

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