Being aware of your sexual health helps protect you and your sex partner. Your sexual health comprises issues such as consent, minimising pain, maximising pleasure and family planning when pregnancy can occur. It also involves taking steps to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In many cases, STIs do not show symptoms, but you should take proper care of yourself and look out for the certain symptoms that may occur when you have an STI. Below is information to help you understand common symptoms of STIs.
How does an STI differ from an STD?
Many people use STI and STD in the same context, but these terms have subtle differences. STIs result in STDs, and the common STIs include chlamydia, genital warts, hepatitis, herpes, HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and bacterial vaginosis.
You can contract any STIs without having an STD, and you may not show symptoms when the disease is active. However, you can pass the infection to other people. Most STIs are symptomatic, which makes routine STI testing important.
What is the prevalence of STIs?
Many people have STIs. Research shows that about one in five people have STIs, with most new infections affecting young people between 15 – 24 years. A common misconception is that STIs affect only younger people. While most new cases occur in younger people, STIs can affect anyone.
Common STIs like chlamydia may cause mild or no symptoms but have the risk of transmission. Research shows that more than half of those with chlamydia show no symptoms.
How often do I need STI testing?
The prevalence of STIs, even without symptoms, makes routine STI testing important. Routine testing helps you get adequate treatment and protect yourself, including people who have sex with, from STIs.
If you are sexually active, ensure you get yearly testing for STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and trichomoniasis. People who have anal sex should schedule more frequent STI testing. The recommended testing frequency is every 3 – 6 months.
Your testing frequency will depend on your risk factors, like what you do when having sex and how many people you engage in sex with.
What symptoms and signs of STIs should I look out for?
Although many STIs do not cause symptoms, you may need to get tested if you show the following symptoms.
- Pain while urinating
Severe discomfort or a burning sensation while urinating may signify an STI like gonorrhoea or chlamydia. The STI may also cause a frequent urge to urinate. In most cases, people confuse these symptoms to indicate urinary tract infection.
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain or irritation
Lower abdominal pain, usually in the pelvic area, may indicate an STI. It requires getting tested witha vaginal, cervical or rectal swab and urine test.
- Painful defecation
If you have anal sex, you can contract an STI like gonorrhoea or chlamydia, resulting in pain during defecation.
- Abnormal vaginal, urethral or anal discharge
Any drip or discharge from the vagina, anus or penis may indicate an STI, particularly gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
- Persistent sore throat
If you have oral sex, including analingus, fellatio or cunnilingus, you can contract an STI that affects the throat. Having a persistent sore throat may indicate gonorrhoea infection. If you had oral sex and your tests for common throat infections like Strep shows a negative result, consider STI testing.
- New sores or bumps
Consider STI testing if you have a new bump in an area you had sexual contact, like your penis, anus, labia, or mouth. Many STIs, especially syphilis and herpes, cause painless or painful bumps.
- Blood in urine
Gonorrhoea and chlamydia infections may cause blood in your urine. This may make the urine orange or pale pink and often occurs with pain when urinating.
- Blood in stool
Like pain, while defecating, persistent blood in the stools may indicate STI if you have anal sex.
How can I prevent STIs?
In addition to routine STI testing, with or without testing, you can take other steps to protect your sexual health. Generally, using condoms during sex minimises the risk of getting STIs, especially gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV and syphilis. But, other protection methods for specific STIs are available.
You can get vaccinated for the following STIs.
Vaccination against hepatitis A and B can provide additional protection against certain liver cancers and liver diseases.
HPV vaccination can reduce your risk of HPV infection, genital warts and certain cancers.
Some bacterial STIs can lead to severe infections like meningitis, but two vaccines are available to protect you from meningitis.
Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can reduce the risk of contracting HIV. If you think you have HIV infection, consider getting HIV PrEP.
Ensure you test regularly for STIs to protect yourself and prevent spreading STIs. Visit us today for a private sexual health screening in London, or call 020 7183 2792 to book an appointment.