Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that are passed from one person to another by sexual contact. Many people mistakenly believe that sexual contact only means vaginal intercourse, but people can catch an STD a variety of ways. This includes anal intercourse, oral-genital contact, skin-to-skin contact in the genital area, kissing, and the use of sex toys, such as vibrators.
Plus, STDs are much more common than you may think. In fact, one in five adults has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and they affect men and women of all backgrounds and economic levels. Needless to say, this remains a major public-health challenge in the US. In total, the CDC estimates that there are approximately 19 million new STD infections each year, which costs the US health-care system $16.4 billion annually. The toll they take on individuals in terms of acute and long-term health consequences is even higher.
Despite these alarming statistics, less than half of sexually active adults ages 18 to 44 have been tested for anything beyond HIV/AIDS. Plus, STDs in older adults have been increasing at an alarming rate!
If you think you might have an STD or may have been exposed to an STD, stop sexual activity and get a medical exam.
Some possible symptoms of STDs include:
- Burning or pain when urinating
- Strange smelling discharge from the vagina or penis
- Itching, burning, or pain around the vagina, penis, or rectum
- Rashes, sores, blisters, or growths around the vagina, penis, or rectum
How to Help Prevent STDs
If you are newly dating, condoms are nonnegotiable unless you have both had a complete STD panel three to six months after your last sexual experience. Many STDs are asymptomatic and take months or even years to surface: In fact, 90 percent of people who have herpes don’t know it! This means that both you and potential partners could be at risk if you aren’t fully aware of each other’s sexual history and get tested.
Preparing for a Sex Date
Once you know each other’s history, you can make the appropriate choices. Like I said before, condoms are imperative if either one of you can’t verify that you are STD-free. Condoms are 85 percent to 98 percent successful at preventing pregnancy if used correctly, but there’s a lot of room for human error, so you may want to combine them with another method of birth control. Still, condoms are the safest, most noninvasive way to prevent the spread of STDs.
However, even condoms cannot protect you completely. Some diseases, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), can be transmitted through shedding skin cells rather than through the transmission of bodily fluids. And, of course, you will be exposed to potential infection if your condom breaks.
Protecting yourself during oral sex is a precaution you can’t ignore, particularly if you have just met your partner. Remember that you can contract an STD just as easily through oral sex as you can through penetrative sex. For fellatio, use a condom as a barrier. For cunnilingus, use a dental dam — a small device that acts as a barrier between the mouth and a women’s vulva.
Be smart and safe, and always keep your sexual and reproductive health your main priority!
For more information about STDs, call the 24-hour Centers for Disease Control and Prevention STD Hotline at 800-227-8922. Information can also be obtained from their Web site as well.