Every year the U.S. highlights Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) during STI Awareness Month because STIs have a significant impact on patients’ sexual health, as well as their overall health and wellbeing.
Here are five important things to be aware of if you’re sexually active.
1) STI testing
Getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The CDC recommends that women under 25 years old get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia once a year. Women over 25 years old who have STI risk factors including a new partner, multiple partners, or a partner who recently tested positive for an STI should also be tested.
Men who have sex with men should be tested for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia at least once a year. Men who have multiple partners or anonymous partners should get tested more frequently. They should also be tested for HIV every 3-6 months.
Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and Hepatitis B early in their pregnancy (and tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia if they have STI risk factors).
Everyone between the ages of 13-64 should have an HIV test at least once in their lifetime.
2) HSV Transmission
Being aware of Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2) is also important. An HSV infection is treatable but not curable, which means once you contract HSV, you have it for life.
This virus can be transmitted through oral, genital, or anal contact. Since the oral-to-genital transmission is possible, even people who don’t have genital herpes can give their partner a genital herpes infection by performing oral sex on them.
The most reliable way to diagnose HSV is to swab any blisters or similar lesions that form on the lips, genitals, or anus and send the swab to the lab for viral culture.
Condom use significantly decreases the risk of transmission. A course of oral antiviral medications can help an outbreak resolve faster. Patients who are prone to frequent outbreaks can take a daily dose of antiviral medication to prevent future outbreaks.
If you’re a sexually active heterosexual female, it’s important to be aware of contraception options if you’re not trying to get pregnant. These options include oral contraceptives, vaginal contraceptive rings, contraceptive patches, injections, Nexplanon implants, intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, and condoms.
If you have intercourse without using contraception and you’re concerned about pregnancy, emergency contraception (commonly called the “morning-after pill”) is available as well. Emergency contraception can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex, though the sooner you take it, the more effective it is.
4) HIV Transmission
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has infected millions of people around the world and has resulted in more than 33 million deaths. HIV weakens the immune system and causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which makes patients susceptible to life-threatening infections.
One in seven HIV-positive people in the U.S. is unaware of their infection, which is why STI testing is so important. Although any sexually active person can contract HIV from an HIV-positive partner, men who have sex with men are at the highest risk of contracting HIV.
Condoms are effective at reducing HIV transmission. Another effective HIV prevention measure is pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an antiviral medication prescribed to men who have sex with men that’s typically taken once a day.
Unfortunately, one in four women and one in six men in the U.S. experience sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Being aware of consent is an important way to prevent sexual assault, and care for the sexual and mental health of yourself and your partner.
Consent is described as the agreement that’s clearly, willingly, and continuously given by a person who’s not incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Whether a sexual encounter is casual or part of an intimate relationship, consent helps to make encounters healthy and safe for all partners involved.
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant