I think I might have: an STI

If you have ever been sexually active, you could have an STI. Some STIs can manifest without any symptoms at all. Some STIs can have long term repercussions if they go untreated; this can lead to infertility, complications in pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease. For this reason, if you are sexually active it is important to get regular screenings and check ups.

Signs and symptoms of an STI:

The signs and symptoms of an STI can vary depending on what you have contracted, and some have no symptoms at all. But, in general, if you have any of the following symptoms, you should go and get checked out immediately:

  • Discharge from your penis or vagina
  • Itching and irritation around your genitals
  • Sores or blisters around your genitals
  • Pain during urination
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding other than during menstruation

How are STIs spread?

Most STIs are spread through contact of infected bodily fluids, such as blood, semen and vaginal fluid. They can also be contracted through contact with infected skin, such as cold-sores, herpes and blisters. STIs such as scabies are passed through close or skin to skin contact with someone who is infected. You can also get certain STIs through the use of needles, such as drug use or piercing.

How can you avoid getting an STI?

The easiest way to avoid getting an STI is by not having sex. Though, there are certain measures you can also take to try and prevent contracting an STI.

Firstly, always use a condom. Use a condom or dental dam when having oral sex. There is no excuse, even if you have a latex allergy you can avail of non-latex alternatives.

Secondly, use lube when using condoms. This can help prevent condoms breaking. Don’t use anything oily or with fats, such as baby oil, as these can weaken the latex.

Thirdly, don’t have sex if you think you have any symptoms of an STI as mentioned above.

Finally, make sure to check that the person you are going to have sex with doesn’t have an STI, and that they have gotten checked recently. 

The ins and outs of getting tested:

It’s important to note that when you get tested for an STI, everything between you and those who test you is 100% confidential. The health care provider cannot tell anyone, that includes your parents, lecturers, or friends.

Generally when you go for an STI check up, you will be asked questions by the nurse or healthcare provider about your sex life. These questions usually concern: the last time you had unprotected sex, and if you feel like you might have contracted some sort of STI? It is so important to be honest with the doctor or nurse who is asking you these questions; they’ve heard it all, so don’t worry, nothing you will say will shock them.

The testing itself is pretty simple, you will get a blood test, swabs and a urine sample will be taken.

Getting your results:  

Some STIs can be diagnosed then and there, such as genital warts. Others can take a few days to come back.

Negative results: This means that you don’t have an STI. Just because you have gotten a negative test, doesn’t mean that you will be safe in the future. Remember to keep practicing safe sex.

Positive results: This means that you have an STI. Your nurse or doctor will give you all the information and advice needed to treat the STI. Some clinics even give you the medication.

Should I tell the people I have had sex with that I have an STI?

You should tell the people you have slept with that you have been diagnosed with an STI. Encourage them to also get tested. If you feel like you cannot tell them, talk to your doctor or health care provider and see if they have a way to tell them that they may have been exposed to an STI. It is important that you tell someone they could have been exposed, as in the long term if untreated, an STI can effect fertility and lead to other nasty side effects.

UCC Student Health Services, located on Ardpatrick College Road do an STI consultation for €20, and can be contacted on +353 (0)21 4902311.

YHS also offer a free STI clinic on Wednesdays, for more information, email yhs@hse.ie .