How can I find out if I have an STD or STI? And what is the difference? Is it even possible that I can have one if I’ve only been having sex with my partner for a few months?
There is often stigma and misunderstanding surrounding STIs and STDs, so it is great that you are asking and becoming proactive about your sexual health! As for your question about the difference between STIs and STDs, STDs are sexually transmitted diseases while STIs are sexually transmitted infections. Recently, there has been a push by some health professionals to abandon the term STDs because “disease” implies that there will inherently be an illness with concrete signs and symptoms, however, this is not the case. Some of the most common STDs may not cause any notable symptoms in an infected individual. The term “infection” is thought to better represent the idea that sexually transmitted viruses or bacteria do not have to cause a “disease” with noticeable symptoms that affect the health of an individual. This is why the term STI is used. This is not a firm rule, so the terms STI and STD are often used interchangeably. In this response, I will stick to using the term STI.
First, here is a little bit of information about STIs and their prevalence. STIs are very common, as there are approximately 20 million new cases each year in the U.S., with about half of those cases occurring in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. An estimated half of all individuals that are sexually active will be infected with an STI at some point in their lives, but transmission can be prevented through comprehensive sex education about preventative measures. STIs are transmitted through exposure to any bodily fluids such as blood, vaginal fluids, semen, pre-seminal fluids, or infected skin or membranes. Therefore, correct and consistent use of barrier methods – male (outer) condoms, female (inner) condoms, dental dams, gloves – during sexual contact significantly reduces the likelihood of contracting common STIs by preventing contact with bodily fluids.
To find out your STI status, you can get tested by a medical professional. Some reasons that you may want to get tested would be if you have had unprotected sex, have had a new partner (or partners), you are at all concerned that you have had exposure to an STI, and/or you want to know your status. Some medical providers will check for STIs during your regular checkup, however some may require that you ask to be tested. Some common STIs that you may want to be tested for include chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, herpes, HPV, syphilis and trichomoniasis. Confidential STI testing and treatment is available at Colgate Student Health Services. Prices range from $15 to $60, or a health insurance card can be used.
We all know that STIs can be a scary topic surrounded by a lot of stigma that can lead to body shaming and slut shaming. However, accurate education and open discussions about STIs and safer sex can fight this stigma. STIs are quite common and effective treatments are becoming increasingly accessible. Overall, using barrier methods, knowing your status, and asking the status of those you are in sexual contact with are the most proactive ways to prevent STI transmission, so talk to your medical provider about how to get tested and keep your eye out for free STI testing at Colgate this spring – it is important to keep informed and actively participate in your own healthcare!
Here is some information about 3 common STIs: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and HIV:
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and affects approximately 1.5 million individuals each year in the United States. Chlamydia is a curable STI, which can be treated by antibiotics. About 75 percent of female-bodied and 50 percent of male-bodied individuals with chlamydia do not experience any noticeable symptoms. However, male and female-bodied individuals can experience inflamed rectum, inflamed urethra and/or conjunctivitis. Male-bodied individuals often experience discharge from penis, pain/burning during urination and/or pain and swelling of testicles, while female-bodied individuals may experience vaginal discharge, pain/burning during urination and/or abdominal pain. A healthcare provider can test for chlamydia by taking a swab of your genital area or a urine sample. It is important to get checked for chlamydia, as it can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and/or infertility if left untreated. Unprotected oral or anal sex can lead to infection in these areas even if genital areas are not infected. Abstinence or use of barrier methods during sexual activity are effective in reducing transmission.
Gonorrhea, caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae, affects an estimated 820,000 individuals each year in the United States. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a curable STI, which can be treated by antibiotics. Some symptoms for male-bodied individuals include, discharge from penis, burning/pain during urination, urinating more often than usual and/or pain and swelling of testicles. Most female-bodied individuals do not experience any symptoms, but some may experience unusual vaginal discharge and/or pain/burning during urination. A healthcare provider can test for gonorrhea by taking a swab of your genital area or a urine sample. Unprotected oral or anal sex can lead to infection in these areas even if genital areas are not infected. Abstinence or use of barrier methods during sexual activity are effective in reducing likelihood transmission.
HIV affects about 1.1 million people living in the United States; however it is estimated that 1 in 5 of these people do not know that they are infected. HIV can be transmitted through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluids, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. There is no cure for HIV, but there are effective treatments exist that can slow or stop progression of HIV such as antiretroviral therapies. Often symptoms of HIV are similar to flu-like symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain, fatigue, swollen glands). If symptoms occur, they typically appear between 1 and 6 weeks after exposure to HIV. A healthcare provider can test for HIV by taking a swab from inside your mouth or a blood test. Abstinence or use of barrier methods during sexual activity are effective in reducing likelihood of transmission. Latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV.
For more information, resources, or to submit a question, feel free to contact the Shaw Wellness Institute, located in center of Cutten Complex.