If you are sexually active outside of a committed relationship, getting pregnant is not the only thing you need to be concerned about. Sexually transmitted diseases or infections (STIs) are a pressing public health concern. Unless you are in an exclusive relationship and neither of you has had previous sexual partners, chances are high that you will contract some type of STI if you continue to engage in sexual intercourse with additional partners.
These statements are not intended to scare you but to inform you: according to the Center for Disease Control, in any given year, almost 26 million new STIs are diagnosed in the United States, and nearly half of these new STI cases are found in people aged 15 to 24.
Contrary to what you may think, it is not always obvious when you have an STI. While many are accompanied by symptoms that arise within a short time of contracting the STI, some do not. Both men and women can carry and spread an STI without being aware of it, which means that your “healthy” sexual partner may still be capable of giving you an STI.
Several STIs can have debilitating short- and long-term consequences for your health. Accordingly, unless you know the health history of your sexual partners, sexually active individuals should get tested for STIs.
Understanding the Prevalence of STIs
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of STIs in the United States is high. Here are some sobering statistics on how common they are:
- Chlamydia: This is the most commonly reported STI, with over 1.6 million cases reported in 2020.
- Gonorrhea: Over 600,000 cases were reported in 2020, with an increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of this disease.
- Syphilis: Cases of primary and secondary syphilis reached a 30-year high, with over 130,000 reported cases.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Nearly 45 million individuals are infected with HPV in the United States, with over 14 million new infections yearly.
These are just four of over 20 types of STIs.
Short-term Effects of STIs
Contracting an STI can have immediate health consequences. Some common short-term effects include:
- Painful Symptoms: Many STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause discomfort, pain, or itching in the genital area. Others, like genital herpes (HSV-2), may lead to painful blisters and sores. Because genital herpes is a virus, it cannot be cured and can be spread to all future sexual partners, even when no symptoms are present.
- Discharge and Unpleasant Odor: Certain STIs, including trichomoniasis, can cause abnormal vaginal or penile discharge accompanied by a strong unpleasant odor.
- Urinary Issues: STIs like gonorrhea can lead to urinary problems such as intense pain while urinating or increased frequency of urination.
- Skin Rashes: Some STIs, like syphilis, can cause skin rashes that may appear on various parts of the body.
Long-term Effects of STIs
The impact of untreated STIs can extend far beyond short-term discomfort. Here are some long-term effects that STIs can cause:
- Infertility: Certain STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can lead to complications like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which may cause scarring and damage to reproductive organs, leading to infertility or difficulty in conceiving.
- Increased Risk of Cancer: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is strongly linked to various types of cancer, including cervical, anal, penile, and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers.
- Organ Damage: Syphilis, if left untreated, can progress to more severe stages and cause damage to the nerves, heart, brain, and other organs.
- Chronic Health Conditions: Some STIs, like HIV, can lead to chronic health conditions that require lifelong management, potentially impacting an individual’s overall well-being and quality of life.
The Importance of Regular STI Testing
Too frequently, young people become sexually active without the information they need to make an informed choice. Take the time to learn the risks, understand your body, and take proactive steps to safeguard your health. Regular STI testing is crucial for sexually active individuals so that any conditions can be detected and treated as soon as possible. While some STIs can be treated and cured with antibiotics, others are not curable and can only be managed.
In addition to protecting yourself from adverse health consequences, STI testing can protect your partner and any potential partners by helping you limit the spread of any disease you may have contracted. At Open Arms Real Choices Clinic in Hayden, Idaho, you can access confidential tests for four common STIs: bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. These tests are provided at no cost, although you will have to cover the fee for the lab that analyzes the results. If you are concerned about whether you have an STI or may be pregnant, it is essential to get tested. Contact Open Arms today to set up an appointment for a no-cost pregnancy test or low-cost STI test. Your sexual health matters.