The lowdown on STIs

Protect Yourself from Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Did you know that Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are on the rise? No one wants an STI (obviously). Catching one can put your health – and even your fertility – at stake. Likewise, giving someone else one isn’t exactly a turn-on. “Eek… Would you like genital herpes with that?”

There’s no need to hold yourself back from enjoying sex and experimenting sexually with whomever you fancy (presuming they fancy it too… it’s probably time to let your insta-crush know you exist). Just be mindful of how to stay safe – whatever your age, relationship status, gender or sexuality. Because if there’s one thing STIs have going for them, it’s that they don’t discriminate. 

Condoms can provide STI protection, so you can enjoy the ride. Just make sure they’re a snug fit and in date (you can find the expiry date printed on the box and foil packing of all Durex condoms). Make sure to always use a water-based lubricant – other oil-based products can actually weaken the condom. And remember that if someone is pressuring you to have unprotected sex when you want to use protection, it’s your body and your choice – so what you want goes.

Now let’s get down to it – here are the most common STIs and their associated symptoms to look out for.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common STI in the UK and often doesn’t show any symptoms whatsoever – particularly with women. That’s why it’s really important to get yourself tested at the doctors or sexual health clinic every so often (and any time after you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner).

Here are the symptoms to look out for if they do show: 

Men:

  • White, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
  • An unpleasant burning sensation and/or pain during urination
  • Discomfort in and/or around the testicles
  • Pain in and around the anus – unprotected anal sex can spread the infection here
  • Throat infections (from oral sex)
  • Conjunctivitis – discharge and pain from around and in the eye

Women:

  • Stomach pain
  • A vaginal discharge
  • A painful burning sensation during urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Heavier periods than usual
  • Itchy eyes if they come into contact with infected semen or vaginal fluid

Genital herpes

Like chlamydia, genital herpes can be very difficult to spot at first, with symptoms generally not being all that noticeable. Once you have an outbreak you’ll definitely know though, as itchy and painful red blisters and spots will appear down there. 

Typical symptoms include: 

Men & women:

  • Tingling pain around the genitals
  • Itchy and red spots that turn into blisters
  • An unpleasant burning feeling during urination
  • Blisters around the anus
  • Cold sores around the mouth
  • A fever or flu-like illness
  • The urge to use the toilet more often

Just women:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Ulcers or blisters on the neck of the womb

Gonorrhoea

For the majority of people gonorrhoea is one of the most difficult STIs to treat, as the signs of its having it are less obvious than other STIs. If symptoms do rear their ugly heads, it’s usually between one day and two weeks after the initial infection. 

Symptoms of gonorrhoea include: 

Men:

  • White, yellow, green or cloudy discharge from the penis
  • Swollen testes
  • Burning or an unpleasant tingling inside the penis
  • The urge to use the toilet more often

 Women:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain in the pelvis and in the stomach
  • Bleeding between periods
  • The urge to use the toilet more often and/or pain when urinating

Rectal infections may either cause no symptoms or cause symptoms in both men and women that may include:

  • Discharge;
  • Anal itching;
  • Soreness;
  • Bleeding;
  • Painful bowel movements. 

HIV

The thought of contracting HIV is scary for anyone, but there have been huge medical developments in recent years with preventative medications like PrEP becoming more available. Great strides have also been made in tackling the stigma of HIV. It still remains a worldwide issue – with gay men being at the highest risk of getting infected here in the UK – but thanks to advancements in medical care, research and education, people with HIV are more able to live full lives (but with more check-ups to go to and tablets to take than your average person.)

With HIV it’s actually easy for people to go for many years without suffering any symptoms, which is why if you think you might be at risk, it’s really important to get checked. 

Here are the main symptoms:

  • Strong fever or flu-like illness (it’s thought 80% of people with HIV will contract this)
  • Rash across the body
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands

Of course, don’t forget that more STIs exist than the ones mentioned, so if you have any doubts, visit your doctor or sexual health clinic.  

Now you know the ins-and-outs – it should be easier to stay safe out there, and in the bedroom. Whatever takes your fancy.

 

RB-M-01526 

References:

FPA, 2017, New statistics on sexually transmitted infections raise concerns for services

RA Trust, 2018, What are symptoms of chlamydia?

RA Trust, 2018, What are the symptoms of herpes?

RA Trust, 2018, What are symptoms of gonorrhoea?

NHS, 2017, HIV & AIDS

NHS, 2017, Condoms

NHS, 2017, Male condoms: know the facts