The only safe sex is no sex at all. There is no way to ever guarantee 100 percent safety during sex, as some STDs can be passed even when protection is used. In fact, it is estimated that 19 million Americans catch an STD every year.
However, abstinence is not an option most couples want to consider. Thus, "safer sex" is the buzzword of the new millennium. Here are some of the STDs you need to be aware of, along with their symptoms and treatments:
HPV: Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The virus infects the skin and mucous membranes. There are more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas, including the skin of the penis, vulva, and anus, and the linings of the vagina, cervix, and rectum. You cannot see HPV. Most people who become infected with HPV do not develop any symptoms and don’t even know they have it.
Sometimes, some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause cervical cancer and other less common cancers, such as cancers of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. There is no cure or treatment for HPV, although Gardasil (a new vaccine approved for women ages 9 to 26) can help protect from certain strains.
Herpes: The herpes virus is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact. If your partner has genital herpes and you have vaginal or anal intercourse, or any direct genital-to-genital contact, he can give you genital herpes.You can also get genital herpes if your partner has oral herpes (a cold sore) and performs oral sex on you, or you can get oral herpes if you perform oral sex and your partner has genital herpes. Herpes can be asymptomatic and a person might only have outbursts a few times a year, so your partner might “look” uninfected, but that does not guarantee he does not have the virus.
Herpes presents as small blisters or ulcers on the genitals, usually 1mm to 3 mm in size, and generally grouped together. They occur outside the genitals, on and around the penis and vagina, and also inside the vagina. Flu-like symptoms might also accompany outbreaks. Valtrex can treat and help prevent outbreaks, but there is no cure.
Chlamydia: In 2007, there were 1.1 million cases of Chlamydia reported in the U.S., the most ever reported. The most noticeable symptom of Chlamydia is burning pain during urination, so it is often mistaken as a urinary tract infection. Other symptoms include discharge from the penis (for men) and bleeding after sexual relations or between menstrual periods (for women). Penicillin can knock this STD out, however, if left untreated it can lead to infertility.
Gonorrhea: Gonorrhea also presents as pain or burning during urination, and in women, this might be accompanied by a frequent need to urinate. Additionally, gonorrhea causes a thick yellow or green discharge from the genitals. Again, antibiotics can treat this STD quickly and effectively.
Trichomoniasis: In women, trichomoniasis presents as vaginal itching and a yellow, gray, or green discharge, often accompanied by a bad smell. In men, trichomoniasis symptoms include pain with urination and pain or swelling in the scrotum. Treatment includes antibiotics.
Syphilis: Syphilis has also increased in numbers in the United States. It has many stages and symptoms. The first stage presents as a sore on the genitals or inside the vagina. The next stage is a reddish-brown rash that can occur anywhere on the body. Other signs of syphilis include fever, swollen lymph glands, body aches, sores in the mouth, and fatigue. Treatment includes antibiotics.
HIV/AIDS: Initially, the symptoms are fever, headache, tiredness, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. Later, as the virus spreads, symptoms can include pneumonia, yeast infection of the esophagus, fever, cough, anemia, weight loss, or Kaposi's sarcoma, which causes brown, reddish, or purple spots that develop on the skin or in the mouth. There is no cure, but there are many medications that can help keep HIV/AIDS patients strong.
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