This Byte has been authored by

Irum Ansari and

Saba Khalid

Intimate relationships — trusted, healthy, and safe ones with true emotional and physical intimacy — can be wonderful to experience.

Sexual health is a prime part of your life. If you're a sexually active young adult, you need to maintain and take care of your sexual health in order to maintain a strong immune system.

Although sex education is considered a taboo in many communities, you can lead a more confident, happier, and healthier life by being well-informed and careful about STIs (sexually transmitted diseases).

An image of a pregnant woman holding a condom as a method to practice hassle-free, safe sex. Photo by CDC on Unsplash

STIs are the type of infections that can pass from one partner to another during sex through multiple ways. STIs aren't restricted to vaginal intercourse — they can also infect a person through sexual activities like oral sex or rubbing the penis against a partner's genitals.

Do STIs impact women and men differently?

Flaticon Icon STIs are not gender or age-specific. If you're sexually active, and not practicing safe sex, you could be at risk of getting infected.

However, research shows that women are more susceptible to contracting STIs, as a man's penis is likely to penetrate a woman's body during sex through her vagina, mouth, or anus. This means that an infection present in the man's semen can then enter into a woman's body and stay there.

If a woman gets pregnant, the chances of the infection traveling to her womb, ovaries, and fallopian tubes are high. A pregnant woman with an STI can transfer the infection to her child even before the actual birth.  

Flaticon Icon Moreover, since women in many societies have relatively less say in sexual activities compared to men, it's harder for women to protect themselves from getting infected.

Often, a woman is forced into involuntary sex with her partner whenever he demands it. Therefore, if the partner has already been infected or has more than one sex partner, he may easily infect his partner. 

Quiz

Farah and Hasan have been dating for two months. Sometimes they have sex. Farah suspects that Hasan is having sex with other partners, but isn’t sure. What should Farah do?

How do I know if I'm infected with an STI?

Flaticon Icon Many STIs go unnoticed for months, while others can exhibit some obvious symptoms or signs that makes their identification easier. That's why you should always trust your instinct about your body and keep your personal hygiene a priority. 

You may have a possible STI infection if you experience one or multiple symptoms:

  • Pain and itching near your genitals

  • Sores or blisters near your genitals

  • A bad smell or an unusual vaginal discharge

Sharp pain during sex

A picture with tests that can be used to check of STDs. Photo by Testalize.me on Unsplash

You could also be vulnerable to STIs if:

  • You practice sex with more than one partner

  • You change your sexual partners very often

  • Your intimate partner exhibits any signs of an STI

This is why getting tested on a regular basis at a clinic nearby is important.

What are common STIs?

Flaticon Icon Some common STIs that you can look out for include:

  • Warts — These are rough skin-colored bumps on the genitals caused by a virus that can be inside the penis or vagina. The bumps might not always be visible on a partner

  • Genital herpes — You can get sores on the genitals or mouth that come and go. You may also experience itching on the genital area or the thighs, with small blisters that may often burst.

  • Syphilis This can cause body rashes on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. It's a serious STI caused by bacteria that calls urgently for medication.

  • Gonorrhea — This causes a pus-like discharge, uncomfortable bowel problems, and bleeding from the penis or vagina. This is a serious STI but curable if treated quickly.

  • Chlamydia — This disease is caused by bacteria and may sometimes cause genital pain and discharge from the vagina or penis, but often leads to no symptoms.

    A black and white diagnostic image showing an STD virus. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

  • HIV — This virus, if not caught early, can develop into AIDS. Infected people can experience fever, aches, swollen lymph nodes, and diarrhea. HIV usually spreads through the semen or blood of an infected person. People with HIV may look completely healthy, so make sure to practice safe sex or get tested for HIV.

  • Hepatitis B This liver infection can cause fever, fatigue, changed stool color, and loss of appetite. The virus can harm the liver thus, prompt medication is advised. 

  • Trichomoniasis This parasite can cause foul-smelling discharge, a red itchy genital area, and a burning sensation while urinating.

How can I prevent STIs?

Having informed and safer sex is the answer.

Always use a condom when you have sex. There is a wide variety of condoms available online. Latex condoms in particular provide considerable protection against HIV and other STIs. Other safety methods can provide some protection against STIs. Using a diaphragm can protect you especially from gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Image of an adult conversation over a cup of coffee. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

In case your partner refuses to put on a condom, talk to them about the health risks you both will be putting yourselves in by not wearing a condom or taking necessary precautionary measures. This might not be the easiest or the sexiest conversation but it will protect you long-term.

Why is it so important to get tested?

An STI test syringe Photo by Testalize.me on Unsplash

Since getting infected with an STI is a serious health concern, make sure that you and your partner seek treatment as soon as you detect any signs. Treatment at an early stage will prevent the infection from causing more harm.

If infections are left untreated for a long time, they can lead to:

  • Infertility problems in both men and women

  • Health problems in babies such as blindness, prematurity, and/or disabilities

  • Cervical cancer in women

Take Action

Flaticon Icon

In many developing countries, protection and testing services for STIs aren't widely available. There may also be several taboos around getting a test done or using protection. However, it's your right to keep yourself safe, so don't be discouraged!

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