STIs are so common – around 4 million Aussies have reported having one in their lifetime. It’s important to acknowledge how common they are because it makes them easier to talk about and helps remove the stigma around getting tested and treated for them too.
The sneakiest thing about STIs is that they can often present without symptoms – which is why you probably shouldn’t be waiting until your nether regions start flaring up to get tested.
I don’t mean to be a nervous-nelly, but getting tested for STIs is part of a healthy and confident sex life, so we’ve gathered some further insight into why it’s best not to wait around until potential harm is caused.
What do STI symptoms generally look and feel like?
There are a variety of symptoms associated with STIs, including:
- Unusual discharge from your vagina or penis.
- Difficulty or pain when you urinate and have sex.
- Blisters, warts, lumps, bumps or sores on your genitals.
- Rash, cracked skin, itchy or irritated skin on or around your genital region.
More specifically, according to the WA Department of Health, Herpes sores or blisters generally burst, form scabs and will cause you to feel sick with flu-like symptoms. They can also form in clusters, are generally smaller than 2 millimetres and are tender to touch. Genital warts are small lumps on the genitals which you can see or feel. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea cases are also still high amongst people aged 18-29, and most people with these STIs don’t experience any symptoms.
Leaving STIs untreated can have long-term effects on your health, including infertility, so it’s best to keep a regular check-up reminder in your diary even if you’re feeling 100%.
When should you see a doctor?
Getting regular STI check-ups should be part of all sexually active adult’s routine. If you’ve had sex without using a condom or dental damn, it’s imperative you get tested. Health professionals also recommended getting tested each time you change sexual partners too. It’s important to acknowledge that STIs are passed through via certain body fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, blood) or by genital skin to skin contact, so it’s important to get tested even if you haven’t had unprotected penetrative sex.
Opening up the convo with your sexual partners about whether they’ve been tested recently might be tricky, but responsibility around this is a two-way street. If neither of you has been tested recently, or if your partner has tested positive for an STI, may want to think about what bedroom activities you can do that reduce the risk of STIs until you both get tested and treated (if you need to). It’s also vital to have the conversation about condoms and dams with your partners, too, as it’s the only way (other than regular testing) to avoid passing on an STI.
If you do happen to test positive for an STI, there are various accessible treatments available. STIs caused by bacteria (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis) can be cured with antibiotics, while viruses (herpes, genital warts, HIV) can be treated to manage symptoms and lower the risk of passing the virus to partners.
Where can you get help?
It’s important to remember that if you are anxious about your health or worried that you might have an STI, there is help available. STIs are so common, so talking to your partner, a friend, or someone else you trust about your anxieties is an integral step in developing a greater understanding of them.
You can book an appointment with your GP to discuss your symptoms and book an STI check. You can also contact the Sexual Health Helpline or visit healthdirect for further advice and info. You can also check out your local sexual health clinic directly for support as well. Taking a test is super easy, and the only way to absolutely know you don’t have an STI – it’ll be as simple as providing a urine and blood sample or taking a swab for the lab to test, and you’ll generally get your results back in a week.
Taking notice of what’s happening to our bodies is imperative to our health. Listening when it might be sending us a message that something is wrong is especially important, considering the long-term effects on your health if left untreated.
At the end of the day, you need to do whatever you’re comfortable with. If you’re 99% sure you’re OK, but the other 1% is telling you otherwise, get a check-up to ease your mind. The peace of mind is worth it, and you’ll be able to go about your day knowing all your bits are healthy.Image: This Is 40