Due to the highly stigmatized nature of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, it’s no wonder everything from STI prevention to transmission gets cloaked in confusion and misconception. STIs rarely get talked about without a hidden agenda: fear. Fair enough. STIs can be scary - if you don’t know the facts.
Lucky for you, we do.
Not only are STIs either treatable or manageable these days, but they’re rarely deadly. Bet you didn't know that, right? We've gathered seven other not-so-deadly myths about STIs: explained, decrypted and vetted for your educational benefit.
Envy - If You Have an STI, You are Alone
There are more than 30 sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Of the STIs that are diagnosed annually, only some (gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis A and B, and HIV) are required to be reported to state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC reports that more than 19 million documented new infections occur annually - some curable, some not. Couple that information with the number of cases not getting documented (the other 24 or so STDs), and it’s plain to see that if you are diagnosed with an STD, you are not alone - at all. (What's it like to have an STD? Read more in Honey, I Have Herpes.)
Sloth - People with STIs Are Dirty
STIs are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, genital fluids and blood by way of intimate contact, oral sex, vaginal sex and anal sex. Unless you think sex is inherently dirty, STIs are anything but. Washing, douching and genital hygiene methods do not prevent STIs; in fact, genital washing practices after exposure can even increase transmission risk.
"Clean" and "dirty" are terms of the past. Now, it's safer sex (or lack thereof) that determines risk.
Gluttony - People with STIs are Promiscuous
That someone has ever contracted an STI or is living with an STI now is not an indicator of that person's sexual proclivity. Yup, cue the gasp.
In order to contract an STI, a person must engage in one of the aforementioned sexual activities at least once. But once is all it takes. I work both with people who contracted an STI during their very first sexual encounter and those who’ve had a number of sexual forays but have never contracted an STI because they’ve been diligent in their safer-sex practices.
Whether it's your first or 30th sexual encounter, the risk of contracting an STI is based on the activity you’re enjoying and the measures you take to protect yourself.
Lust - If You Have an STI, Your Sex-Life is Over
If you have an STI, your sex life might change, but you will definitely be able to have one. As someone who’s lived with an STI for years, I can attest to the ability to have an enjoyable and healthy sex life regardless of living with an STI. Quite frankly, my STI has never precluded a partner from wanting to engage in sexual activities with me.
While I’ve had to be more conscientious of risk and transmission - not only to others, but to myself as well (having an STI may increase the risk of contracting new STIs), my sex life has hummed along quite nicely. After you bridge the initial challenge of when to tell a new partner about your STI - and how - yours will too.
Wrath - People with STIs Infect People on Purpose
More than half of all people will contract an STI at some point in their lifetime - most won’t know it.
Sure, I’ve heard of those horror stories where someone was sleeping with as many people as possible in order to spread their infection, but those situations are not the norm. Most transmissions occur because people are unaware they have an infection at all, and/or people are not engaging in comprehensive safer-sex.
Pride - I Don’t Need to Get Tested
The most common symptom for all STIs is no symptom, which is also why most people are unaware they have contracted one. Subsequently, without getting tested, there’s no way to know for sure.
Think you’ve been tested during your pap smear? Think again. Certain types of pap smears may include HPV testing, and it is also possible that swelling or damage from other STIs could show up on your pap smear. However, that is not the same as undergoing comprehensive STD screening.
Keep in mind that an untreated or asymptomatic STI can still be transmitted to others, and can cause serious health problems for the carrier as well. For example, at least 15 percent of all cases of infertility among American women can be attributed to tubal damage caused by an untreated STI.
Greed - It Costs Too Much to Practice Safer Sex
Safer sex is actually easier and less expensive than you might think. Only two out of four steps in a comprehensive safer-sex practice involve monetary items to begin with, and even those are often attainable at a low-cost or for free. These include:
- Talking to a partner about safer sex before engaging in activities with them.
- Having a full STI screenings and sexual health exam at least once a year and more often if you have new or multiple partners.
- Using barriers consistently and correctly.
- Making safer lifestyle choices to reduce risk, such as having mutually exclusive relationships, limiting drugs and alcohol, or reducing the number of sexual partners you have at one time.
Now that you know a little more about STIs, you may need to get tested. Use this handy-dandy testing finder to locate your nearest provider. (Get more facts about sexual health in The Shocking Truth About STIs.)