Health

Educate yourself about STIs

By Stigma Health

HUD App is thrilled to partner with Stigma Health, Australia’s largest online sexual health clinic group, to educate and empower dating app users to take control of their sexual health and wellbeing.

How many times have you talked to a potential date about STIs? It’s probably not something that comes up in your initial conversations: “Hey, let’s connect and share our STI test results!” doesn’t tend to be an opener when you’ve just started chatting.

Sorry ’bout the discomfort, but it’s important to remember that when you become sexually active, you are risking exposure to STIs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re having intimate contact that’s heterosexual, same-sex, oral, or even just making out, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of contracting an STI - or passing one along to your partner.

So here’s what you need to know about STIs - and what you can do to protect yourself. Strap in – this is gonna be a big topic, but it’s important!

There are over 30 kinds of STIs.

According to the World Health Organization, there are over 30 different kinds of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be transmitted via intimate contact. The majority of STIs are caused by eight of these 30 pathogens, and at this point in time, only four are curable - FOUR. OUT OF 30.

Not all STIs have obvious symptoms.

Sometimes STIs won’t show any symptoms at all (which is why you should ALWAYS practice safe sex). Symptoms of specific STIs can vary between bodies and genders, but some common symptoms you should look out for are:

• Unusual discharge or bleeding from the penis or vagina.

• Itchiness in the pubic area, or in or around the vagina.

• Pain or discomfort when urinating or during sex.

• Rashes, bumps, sores, or ulcers on or around the mouth, vagina, or penis, testicles, anus, buttocks, or thighs.

It’s not just STIs you can get from intimate contact.

Just because your partner has a clean STI test doesn’t mean you’re completely safe. Pubic lice, thrush, bacterial vaginosis, and other infections are all transmissible via intimate contact.

The big 8

Here are some basics about the most common STIs.

The four most common curable STIs are syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are bacterial infections which are spread through bodily fluid and intimate, skin-to-skin or sexual contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex. Trichomoniasis is caused by a microscopic parasite that’s spread through unprotected genital contact, and in rare cases, can be spread through the sharing of personal items like towels and damp clothing and bathwater, or picked up from a damp toilet seat or public pool.

The four most common incurable STIs are Hepatitis B (Hep B), Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Human Papillomavirus (HPV). These four STIs are most often spread through intimate, skin-to-skin or sexual contact via semen, and vaginal and rectal fluids. Herpes can also be spread through kissing and oral sex, and through unprotected mutual masturbation (hand jobs, fingering, fisting, etc).

Both Hep B and HIV can also be spread through blood - for example, by sharing injecting, piercing, and tattooing equipment. HIV can also be spread via breast milk, and Hep B can be spread through the sweat, tears, and saliva of an infected person (but HIV can’t be transmitted this way unless these bodily fluids are mixed with the infected person’s blood).

How are STIs diagnosed and treated?

STIs are usually diagnosed via a swab, urine test, or blood test, depending on the STI. Talk to your GP or visit a public health clinic to arrange STI testing - there are places that will do it for free (search for “free STI testing” and see what comes up near you).

We all know it’s embarrassing to talk about STIs – even to health professionals who see this sort of thing all the time – so you may also want to investigate online testing options. For example, Stigma Health in Australia allows you to get your pathology referral online, take it to get tested at a pathology collection center, and then get your results sent straight to your mobile phone – avoiding any awkward face-to-face convos with your GP.

If you’re having symptoms that are concerning you, definitely talk to your GP or a health professional, as there are treatments available. Curable STIs usually require a course of targeted antibiotics, while some STIs including pubic lice and trichomoniasis are usually treated with an oral or topical medication.

If your STI is one of the incurable variety, your health professional can talk to you about what options you have. Some incurable STIs can be vaccinated against (like HPV and Hep B), and while you can’t be vaccinated against HIV, a medication known as PrEP can help prevent transmission. Treatment of incurable STIs is generally targeted towards management of symptoms and education about how to prevent transmission.

Some STIs don’t show any symptoms at all, and some will resolve by themselves. But that’s not an excuse - you shouldn’t assume you haven’t got an STI or you haven’t been exposed, and you should always, always get tested prior to becoming intimate with a new partner.

How can I prevent myself from getting an STI, or from passing one along to my partner?

You’re going to hate this - but the easiest way is by not having sex. Most people would agree that’s not the answer they want to hear, so the next best way is by making sure to always use barrier protection like a condom or dental dam.

Limiting the number of sexual partners you have and/or only engaging in mutual masturbation (not penetrative sex) may also reduce your risk of getting or passing along an STI, but these aren’t foolproof. You should still practice good hand hygiene (shoutout to the pandemic for making us all aware of hand hygiene!) and continue to use protection.

How to talk to a new partner about STIs and your sexual history

There’s no tried-and-true script for having this conversation, so you might just have to jump in and start talking - and honestly, it might be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. It might be a good idea to chat about things when you’re in a neutral space with your intimate partner, just casually. When you’re in the middle of getting hot and heavy, it can be difficult to put the brakes on and say, “So, have you been tested for STIs since your last partner?” - but it’s important you are honest and upfront, and that you expect the same honesty and forthrightness from anyone you’re planning to be intimate with.

Pay attention to their reaction - if they don’t want to tell you, they evade the question, they tell you not to worry (but have no proof to show you), or they are offended and try to gaslight you (“Don’t you trust me?”), well, these are all red flags you should pay attention to. Responsible people feel the discomfort and do it anyway.

For more info

If you’re in Australia, Stigma Health has some great info about STIs. They can also help you get tested for STIs conveniently and privately and have a lot of excellent resources you can access.

In other countries, your local or regional health authority will have some helpful resources and info - search “sexually transmitted infections” or “sexually transmitted diseases” to find out more.

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