This week, we will expand our knowledge on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
If you are worried that you have an STI, go for a check-up at a sexual health clinic as soon as you can. Do not have sex, including oral sex until you have had a check-up.
Some clinics offer home testing kits for some STIs.
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- Pain when urinating
- Lumps or skin growths around the genitals or anus
- A rash
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Itchy genitals or anus
- Blisters and sores around the genitals or anus
Chlamydia is one of the most common STI in the UK. It gets passed on through unprotected sex (sex without a condom) and is particularly common in sexually active teenagers and young adults. If you are under the age of 25 and are sexually active, it is highly recommended you get tested for chlamydia every year or when you change sexual partners.
- Pain when urinating
- Unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- For women, pain in the tummy, bleeding after sex and bleeding in between menstruation
- For men, pain and swelling in the testicles
You can get chlamydia through:
- Unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex
- Sharing sex toys that are not washed or covered with a new condom each time they are used
- Your genitals coming into contact with your partner’s genitals – this means you can get chlamydia from someone even if there is no penetration, orgasm or ejaculation
- Infected semen or vaginal fluid getting into your eye
- It can be passed on by a pregnant woman to her baby.
Chlamydia cannot be passed on through casual contact such as kissing, hugging or sharing baths, towels, swimming pools and toilets.
- Chlamydia is treated with a course of antibiotics.
The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid. This STI is easily passed on through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, sharing sex toys that have not been washed or covered with a new condom each time they’re used.
The bacteria can infect the entrance to the womb (cervix), the tube that passes urine (urethra), the rectum and, less commonly, the throat or eyes.
The infection can be passed on from a pregnant woman to her baby. If you are pregnant and may have gonorrhoea, itIis important to get tested and treated before your baby is born because without treatment, gonorrhoea can cause permanent blindness in a newborn baby.
Gonorrhoea cannot spread by kissing, hugging, swimming pools, toilets, sharing a bath, towels, cups, plates or cutlery. The bacteria cannot survive outside the human body for long.
- Thick green or yellow discharge from vagina, penis, pain when peeing and in women, bleeding between menstruation. However, around 1 in 10 infected men and almost half of infected women do not experience any symptoms (NHS).
- Usually treated with a course of antibiotics.
- You should avoid having sex until you have been told you no longer have the infection.
- Previous, successful treatment for gonorrhoea does not make you immune to catching it again.
Trichomoniasis is a STI caused by a tiny parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis (TV). In women, this parasite mainly infects the vagina and the urethra. In men, the infection mostly affects the urethra, but the head of the penis or prostate gland can become infected in some cases.
The parasite is usually spread by having sex without using a condom. You can also contract trichomoniasis by sharing sex toys if they were not washed or covered by a condom. You do not have to have multiple sexual partners to catch trichomoniasis.
You cannot get or pass on trichomoniasis through kissing, hugging, sharing cups, plates, cutlery or toilet seats.
Symptoms usually develop within a month of infection, but approximately half of the people will not develop any symptoms (but they can still pass the infection). Trichomoniasis can be difficult to diagnose as it has similar symptoms to many STIs.
- Trichomoniasis in women:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that may be thick, thin or frothy and yellow-green in colour.
- Producing more discharge than normal, which may also have an unpleasant fishy smell.
- Soreness, swelling and itching around the vagina – sometimes the inner thighs also become itchy.
- Pain or discomfort when passing urine or having sex.
- Trichomoniasis in men:
- Pain when passing urine or during ejaculation
- Needing to pee more frequently than usual
- Thin, white discharge from the penis
- Soreness, swelling and redness around the head of the penis or foreskin
The best way to prevent trichomoniasis is to have safe sex, which means using a condom when having sex, covering any sex toys with a condom and washing your toys after every use.
- This parasite is unlikely to go away without treatment. It can be effectively treated with antibiotics. It is important to avoid having sex while on treatment. Wait until the infection clears up before resuming your sexual activities.
Complications of trichomoniasis are rare, although some women with the infection may be at an increased risk of further problems. If you are infected with trichomoniasis while pregnant, the infection may cause your baby to be born prematurely or have low birth weight.
Genital warts are a common STI passed on by vaginal and anal sex, sharing toys and rarely by oral sex. You can get genital warts from skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal and anal sex, sharing sex toys and oral sex, though this is less common.
- 1 or more painless growths or lumps around your vagina, penis or anus.
- Itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus
- A change to your normal flow of urination.
- A sexual partner who has genital warts, even if you do not have symptoms
Treatment for genital warts:
- The treatment needs to be prescribed by a doctor.
- The type of treatment will depend on what the wart looks like and where they are.
- Treatment can be cream or liquid, surgery or freezing.
If you notice these warts, consult your GP and/or sexual clinic as soon as you can.
If you have genital warts and are pregnant, tell your GP or midwife. Genital warts during pregnancy can grow and multiply, might appear for the first time, or come back after a long time of not being there. They can still be treated safely (but some treatment should be avoided); they may be removed if they’re very big to avoid problems during birth. These may be passed to the baby during birth, but it is rare.
Genital herpes is a STI passed on through vaginal, anal and oral sex.
You can get genital herpes from skin-to-skin contact with an infected area (including vaginal, anal and oral sex), even when there are no visible sores or blisters, if a cold sore touches your genitals, by transferring the infection on fingers from someone else to your genitals or by sharing sex toys with someone who has herpes. It is therefore recommended that you do not have oral sex if you have cold sore.
- Small blisters around your genitals, anus, thighs or bottom
- Tingling, burning or itching around your genitals
- Pain when you urinate
- In women, vaginal discharge
You should speak to your GP or go to a sexual health clinic if you see blisters, even if you haven’t had sex in a while, as blisters take months or years to appear.
- There is no cure, symptoms will clear up by themselves, but the blisters can come back (outbreak or recurrence). You may be prescribed antiviral medicine (including as a cream) to stop the symptoms from getting worse.
Always keep the areas of the outbreak clean to prevent infection.
Genital herpes can be more serious for people living with HIV. If you are living with HIV, and have genital herpes, you will be referred to a GUM clinic.
Women with herpes before pregnancy can usually expect to have a healthy baby and a vaginal delivery. If you have genital herpes during pregnancy, there is a risk your baby could develop a serious illness called neonatal herpes.
Public lice, sometimes called crabs, are tiny insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as public hair. They may also be found in underarm and leg air, hair on the chest, abdomen and back, facial hair, such as beards and moustaches, eyelashes and eyebrows (occasionally). Unlike head lice, pubic lice don’t live in scalp hair. It is spread through close bodily contact, most commonly sexual contact.
- Itching in the affected areas, especially at night
- Inflammation and irritation caused by scratching
- Black powder in your underwear
- Blue spots or small spots of blood on your skin, such as your thighs or lower abdomen (caused by lice bites)
Can be treated at home with insecticide cream, lotion or shampoo
- Sometimes a pubic lice infestation can lead to minor complications, such as skin or eye problems.
- Can lead to skin infection
- Eye infection, like conjunctivitis, eye inflammation
- Mild fever, feeling tired
It is important to seek medical attention if you have severe skin irritation or sore eyes
Scabies is very common and anyone can get it. It should be treated quickly to stop the spreading.
One of the first symptoms is itching, especially at night.
Scabies is very infectious, but can take up to 8 weeks for the rash to appear.
During your treatment, you should not have sex or come into close contact with anyone.
Scabies can spread easily.
- Scratching can cause infections
- Scabies can make conditions like eczema and psoriasis worse.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s usually caught by close contact or having sex with someone who is infected.
It is very important to get tested and treated as soon as possible. Syphilis can be cured with a course of antibiotics. That being said, you can get syphilis more than once.
- Small, painless sores and ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places (i.e.: the mouth)
- A blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
- Small skin growths (similar to genital warts) that may develop on the vulva in women or around the anus for both men and women
- White patches in the mouth
- Tiredness, headaches, joint pains, high temperature and swollen glands in your neck, groin, or armpits.
If left untreated, syphilis can spread to the brain or other parts of the body and cause serious long-term problems.
- Injection of antibiotics.
Syphilis in pregnancy:
If a woman is infected while pregnant, it can be very dangerous for her baby if not treated. Infection in pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or serious infection in the baby.
Screening for syphilis during pregnancy is offered to all pregnant women so the infection can be detected and treated before it causes any complications.
- Use a male or female condom every time you have vaginal or anal sex
- Use a condom to cover the penis during oral sex
- Using a dam (a piece of thin, soft plastic or latex ) to cover the female genitals during oral sex or when rubbing female genitals together. (Cool trick: you can cut a condom to create a dam! Cut the tip on the condom, then cut it lengthwise. You will see that it looks like a rectangle. It is ready to use. Keep good hygiene with this. Do not start flipping it over.)
- Not sharing sex toys. And if you do share them, use a condom (one for each person) to cover them or wash them after each person who uses them.
I hope this article has help you better understand STIs and why it is important to keep good hygiene and use protection!
Be kind to one another!
Julia, Sexologist Blog
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