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Safe Sex and STIs

What are Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs)?

Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs) are infections that are passed from person to person during sexual activity. STIs are caused by organisms like viruses, fungi, bacteria or parasites. Different types of STIs need different kinds of treatment. 

Common STIs include:

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), 
  • Genital warts - also called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) 
  • Genital herpes 
  • Hepatitis B 
  • Gonorrhoea ('the clap') 
  • Pubic lice ('crabs') 
  • Syphilis 
  • Chlamydia 

These infections can be contracted by means of vaginal, anal, and, in many cases, oral sex. You are at high risk if: 

  • you have more than one sex partner 
  • you don't use protection while having sex 
  • you are an injecting drug user (many infections which can be transmitted sexually can also be transmitted through sharing needles or injecting equipment). 

There are more than 20 infections that may be passed on through sexual contact. These infections are particularly common among young people. According to one US study, 48% of new STIs occurred among people aged 15-24. Don't be fooled: It can happen to you!
Many sexually transmitted infections can be cured or controlled if they are treated early. But you may not realize you have an STI until it has damaged your long term health or been passed on to your partner. Also, having an STI weakens the immune system and leaves you more vulnerable to other infections. Some people believe that they can tell if someone is infected with an STI. That is not true. Anyone can get a sexually transmitted disease. It does not only happen to people with many sexual partners.

How could I get an STI? 

During vaginal, anal or oral sex, STIs can be transmitted through the exchange of blood, semen and vaginal fluids, or through skin contact.

Can I protect myself from getting an STI? 

In most cases you can protect yourself by practicing safer sex. If you're having vaginal, oral or anal sex it's important to use a condom every time. Apart from not having sex, condoms are the best protection from STIs. Remember, however, that condoms are not foolproof. They can break, and they may not always cover the infectious area. 

How can I tell if I have an STI? 

Often, you can't tell. Some people have no symptoms at all, while others may have a wide range of symptoms, not only in the genital area. Different types of STIs have different symptoms. Some common symptoms include itching, rashes, discharge, burning when you urinate and sores on the genitals. 

Can I tell if somebody else has an STI? 

No, you can't always tell. HIV is infectious but generally does not show symptoms for years. Herpes may occasionally be transmitted in the absence of any visible sore. Chlamydia (a disease that can cause infertility in women) frequently has no symptoms. The only way to know for sure is by having an STI check. 

I think I might have an STI. What should I do? 

The easiest way to find out if you have an infection is to get tested. It's a good idea to have regular sexual health check-ups every year once you start having sex or when you change sexual partners. Most GPs offer sexual health checks. Many men, especially young men, avoid or put off going to the doctor. This can be a bad mistake. Some STIs require early treatment. If you suspect that you might have an STI, see a doctor as soon as possible.

For support on this topic

For general peer support and advice in relation to this topic, please visit our forum.
MensLine Australia has professional counsellors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing confidential and anonymous information and support for all relationship issues. Call us on 1300 78 99 78 or register for online counselling