You may have heard a lot about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but how much of what you’ve been told is fact – and how much fiction?
Let’s start with the basics: what is an STD? An STD is a sexually transmitted disease, and maybe you know that you can contract one by having sex with someone who’s already infected. But did you know that you can also get infected if your hands, mouth or genitals come into contact with an infected person’s genitals – especially if you have open sores? STDs aren’t just transmitted through sex, but by any type of unprotected sexual activity.
Here’s something else you might not know: lesbians are also at risk of contracting certain STDs, despite what you may have heard to the contrary.
And, while some STDs can be cured and will go away completely, others can’t. For example, herpes can’t be cured once you have it, but you can take medication to treat the symptoms and shorten the outbreaks.
5 of the most common myths about STDs
#1: You won’t get an STD if you urinate, wash or douche after sex.
FACT: None of these things can prevent you from contracting an STD – once you’ve been exposed to the virus or bacteria, only medical intervention may be able to help. Douching is not ever recommended as it may destroy healthy bacteria that help fight infection.
#2: You can see if your partner has an STD
FACT: Often, there are no physical STD symptoms that you can see. Syphilis, for example, displays few if any symptoms in the early stages. So, if you’re having sex with someone, get tested. Even a doctor can’t tell, just by looking, if a person has certain diseases. Blood tests are required to rule out any STDs, because if left untreated, they can cause serious problems like infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and cervical cancer.
#3: You won’t get STDs if you only have oral or anal sex.
FACT: These types of sex pose just as much risk as intercourse does. Remember, the viruses and bacteria that cause STDs can enter the body through tiny cuts or tears anywhere on the body, be it the penis, vagina, anus, mouth or even the hands. Some STDs, like herpes and genital warts, can be spread between people simply through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area.
#4: You can’t contract STDs from skin-to-skin contact alone.
FACT: There are two serious STDs you can get through skin-to-skin contact: herpes and syphilis. Even if you aren’t having vaginal, anal or oral sex, and even if no visible sores or rashes are present, you may still be at risk if you have even the smallest cuts or tears on your body. Remember, the viruses and bacteria that cause STDs are microscopic.
#5: All STDs can be cured.
FACT: Only some can be cured, and all can cause life-long health issues. HIV/Aids and genital herpes, for example, can’t be cured. Even though you can be treated for the symptoms, you can still pass these diseases on to your partner(s). Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are examples of STDs that can be treated and cured with antibiotics. However, they need to be taken extremely seriously: ignoring them or not treating them properly can lead to permanent damage of your reproductive system and even infertility, preventing you from ever falling pregnant.
Visit your nearest Marie Stopes for quick, easy STI testing
All Marie Stopes centres across South Africa offer HIV and STI screening and management. The tests are quick, painless and simple to carry out, and we offer counselling and support to anyone who needs or wants it.
So, stop worrying about your and your partner’s status – rather, get tested and know for sure, so you can carry on with your life empowered and armed with the right information. Book an appointment online now.