STDs are sexually transmitted diseases, also known as ‘venereal diseases’ (VD) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). They are among the most common contagious diseases and can be caused by a number of microorganisms that vary in symptoms, size, life cycle, and susceptibility to available treatments. Such organisms may pass to another person through blood, semen, or vaginal and other bodily fluids. So, sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted from one person to another through intimate physical contact, mostly – but not exclusively through sexual intercourse. There are many cases when these infections are transmitted nonsexually, such as from mother to infant during pregnancy or childbirth, through blood transfusions or shared unsterilized needles, etc.
Some infections, like meningitis, can be passed through sexual contact but are not classed as STDs. This because bacteria that cause meningitis can already live in your body or anywhere in the environment, so people can acquire a meningitis infection for other reasons as well.
According to WebMD, more than 65 million Americans have an incurable STD, from where fifty percent of this number are people aged from 15 to 24. While 1 in 4 sexually active adolescent females has an STD. Whereas, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports estimates 20 million new infections every year in the United States.
The good news is that sexually transmitted diseases are avoidable, treatable and worth discussing. Some of the ways to avoid or reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections are as the following:
When you are not sure about your partner’s past sexual health history, or whether you are infected or not, abstaining from sexual intercourse is the most effective way to avoid STIs.
2. Communicate and verify
Always communicate with your partner before any serious sexual contact, about practicing safer sex. Sexually transmitted diseases do not always cause symptoms, so it is possible to have an infection and not be aware of it. So, until you and your new partner have been tested for STDs, avoid vaginal and anal intercourse. Oral sex does not come without perils but is less risky. However, make sure to use a latex condom or dental dam to prevent direct contact.
3. Use condoms and dental dams consistently
If you don’t choose the first way – abstaining, you can lower the risk of getting infected with sexually transmitted diseases by using latex condoms or dental dams. Avoid using oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, with a latex condom or dental dam. Also, condoms made from natural membranes are not very effective at preventing STDs.
Don’t count on oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices, as they are not effective at preventing STDs.
4. Get vaccinated
There are some vaccines available to prevent certain STDs, such as Human papillomavirus (HPV), Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Usually, people get vaccinated to prevent the Hepatitis B when being newborns, whereas Hepatitis A vaccine is preferred for 1-year-olds.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the HPV vaccine is recommended for ages 11 and 12. If they skip these ages, the CDC suggests for both sexes to take the vaccine through age 26.
5. Get screened (especially pregnant women)
Transmission from mother to infant during pregnancy or delivery
6. Consider male circumcision
Male circumcision has proved to prevent a man’s risk of getting infected with HIV from an infected woman by as much as 60%. It also lowers the risk of getting genital herpes.
7. Avoid excessive alcohol or drugs
People who are prone to consuming excessive alcohol or drugs are more likely to take sexual risks. Thus, they are more exposed to STDs.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
There are 3 different kinds of STDs: bacterial, viral, and parasitic.
Bacterial STDs are caused by bacterias, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, etc. and are curable through treatment with antibiotics. However, they often give no warning signs or symptoms, and if not treated with time, they can cause serious complications.
Viral STDs/STIs are caused by viruses transmitted from person-to-person during sexual activity. However, there are many ways it can pass to another person through non-sexual contact as well.
On the other hand, parasitic STDs are caused by parasites, and same as bacterial and viral STDs, they can be passed through sexual or non-sexual contact.
Bacterial Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Syphilis is a common but serious bacterial infection that is spread through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Even though it is less common, Syphilis can also spread from a mother to her baby during pregnancy and childbirth.
This STD cannot be transmitted from shared food or drinks, hugging, sharing towels, coughing, sneezing, or sitting on toilet seats.
Syphilis causes sores on your genitals (chancres), which are usually painless. Except for your vagina, penis, anus, Syphilis can infect your lips and mouth too.
It can be easily cured with antibiotic medicine, but if not treated with time it can cause permanent complications.
Gonorrhea also called as the ‘clap’ or ‘drip’, is one of the most common bacterial infection that comes usually without symptoms. It is spread through unprotected vaginal, anal, and oral sex. But, it can also be passed to from mother to a baby during birth. The infection is carried in semen (cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids. Gonorrhea can infect your vagina, penis, cervix, anus, urethra, throat, and eyes (but that’s rare).
It can easily be treated with antibiotic medicine, but if not treated early enough, it can cause serious health problems.
Chlamydia is a very common bacterial STD which is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. It can also be transmitted during birth, from mother to baby. Usually, people with chlamydia don’t show any symptoms.
Chlamydia can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eyes, and throat. Rarely, you can get chlamydia by touching your eye if you have infected fluids on your hand. The good news is that Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics. Whereas to prevent it, as with every other bacterial STD, use condoms and/or dental dams every time you have sexual intercourse.
Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV)
Lymphogranuloma Venereum (LGV) is not a very common STD in the United States, most often spread through unprotected receptive anal sex. This disease is caused by “3 unique strains of Chlamydia trachomatis and characterized by a small, often asymptomatic skin lesion, followed by regional lymphadenopathy in the groin or pelvis.”
If not treated, LGV may cause obstruction of lymph flow and chronic swelling of genital tissues.
Viral Sexually Transmitted Diseases
HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). It is spread during sexual intercourse, but you can also get infected through blood transfusions, sharing unsterilized needles, or during childbirth.
This virus breaks down certain cells in your immune system, which makes it easier for you to get really sick and even die from infections that your body could normally fight off. Once you get infected with HIV, the virus stays in your body for life and there is not an exact cure for it. However, various medications can help you stay healthy and live a long time.
Eventually, AIDS is the disease caused by the damage that HIV does to your immune system.
Oral & Genital Herpes
Herpes is a common virus that leads to painful sores on your genitals and/or mouth and stays in your body for life.
According to Planned Parenthood, herpes is caused by two different but similar viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). They can cause sores to pop on your vagina, vulva, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, butt, inner thighs, mouth, lips, throat, and rarely, your eyes.
This STD can be transmitted from skin-to-skin contact with infected areas, often during vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, and kissing. This virus doesn’t survive outside the body, so you can’t get herpes from hugging, coughing, sneezing, or sitting on toilet seats.
HPV (Genital Warts)
Genital warts are caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). They can appear on the skin around your genitals and anus. It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected, often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. You can also pass it to another person even if the sperm doesn’t go through the vagina or anus, or even when you don’t have any visible warts or other symptoms.
Although it is very rare, vaginal childbirth can be one of the ways to transmit genital warts to your baby.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by a virus called the hepatitis B virus, or HBV. It is transmitted through sexual intercourse. So, it is spread through contact with semen (cum), vaginal fluids, blood, and urine.
Although there is no cure for this STD, one can easily prevent it by either getting vaccinated with the Hepatitis B vaccine and/or using condoms.
The most common kinds of Hepatitis are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Trichomoniasis, also called ‘trich’ for short, is a super common STD that is cured with antibiotics. It is an infection of the vagina or male genital tract with Trichomonas vaginalis. The parasite which causes Trichomoniasis is a tiny parasite called ‘trichomona’.
Usually, people get infected with this type of STD through unprotected sexual contact with someone who has the infection. It’s spread when semen (cum), pre-cum, and vaginal fluids get on or inside your penis, vulva, or vagina.
It can be asymptomatic or cause urethritis, vaginitis, or occasionally cystitis, epididymitis, or prostatitis.
Scabies is an itchy skin condition caused by tiny parasites, known as ‘scabies mites’, which can be easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex. So, you can get infected especially when your bodies are touching or stay close for a long time.
Scabies mites set underneath the top layer of your skin and lay eggs. The average number of mites on a person’s body is about 10-15 mites at a time. Although these tiny parasites cannot easily be seen, they will cause rashes, itching, and irritation.
Also known as ‘crabs’, pubic lice are tiny parasites that attach to the skin and hair around your genitals. They can be spread through sexual contact, or if you have close contact with an infected person. However, sometimes you can get infected by using an infected person’s clothes, towels, or bed. It’s a very rare case to get pubic lice from a toilet seat because these parasites can’t live very long away from a human body, and the toilet seat surface is very smooth for them to hang onto.
Pubic lice isn’t a dangerous STD, and it is usually treated very easily.
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