By Lara Guvelioglu ’16
STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids (blood, semen, vaginal and anal secretions). STIs can be contracted through oral, anal and vaginal sex and through skin-to-skin contact with infected fluids. Women can even pass STIs to their babies. Various bacteria, viruses and parasites cause STIs. Therefore, infections have different prevention methods, treatment options and symptoms (though symptoms may be similar). Some STIs cannot be cured and others show no symptoms at all (asymptomatic). Despite the many myths surrounding STIs, they cannot be transmitted through casual contact (hugs, handshakes, etc.) or use of non-contaminated objects like clothing and toilet seats. One source says that though young people between 15 and 24 only represent a quarter of the sexually experienced population, they account for about 50% of new STDs.
Some STIs can be prevented through vaccinations (HPV and Hepatitis B) and others through making safe choices during sexual intimacy (including intercourse). The use of condoms and dental dams during sex (vaginal, anal, oral) prevent fluid exchange, and therefore, are crucial prevention methods. However, individuals should only use water based lubricants (not oil-based) with latex methods because oil deteriorates latex. Limiting the numbers of partners, practicing safer forms of sexual intimacy and practicing monogamy with a partner who has been tested for STIs are also effective prevention methods.
In spite of the fact that there are various prevention methods available, many cultural blocks stand in the way of STI prevention. Within our own community, STIs are often overlooked and thought of as something that “only happens to other people.” Dishonesty between sexual partners, often prompted by embarrassment, is another challenge. The lack of awareness about STI contraction and prevention is also a significant barrier.
Even if you feel great– get tested and encourage your partner to get tested. Often STIs do not have noticeable symptoms, and some symptoms are sneaky and can hide, remaining undetected. Untreated infections can cause physical disabilities infertility, or even more severe consequences. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!