HIV and STIs
Reduce the Risk
There are lots of ways to reduce your risk of getting an STI. The most foolproof way to avoid STIs – not to mention unplanned pregnancy – is to not have sex at all. If you are having sex, though, there are other ways to reduce your risk.
Talk with your partner(s) about STIs, their sexual history, and how to avoid risks before you have sex. Open communication encourages trust and respect among partners and helps reduce the risks for STIs. Plus, it’s the perfect time to figure out what kind of birth control you’re going to use…that way, you’re not waiting until you’re in the heat of the moment.
Practice Safer Sex
Condoms—both the male and female variety—work really well at stopping the spread of most STIs when they are used consistently and correctly every single time a person has sex. Lots of people don’t know how to use a condom correctly, which can make them more susceptible to STIs. Make sure you know how to use a condom. Also, be aware that condoms made from lambskin—also known as “natural condoms”—don’t protect against STIs.
Part of making good decisions about sex is being prepared for any situation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl, if you’re going to have sex with someone (or just think you might) you should be ready. Have condoms with you and be sure that the person you’re with has been tested and is STI-free.
Testing can help you learn whether you or your partner(s) have an STI. Many STIs don’t have obvious physical symptoms, so you can’t just assume that neither of you has an STI—just because someone looks clean and healthy doesn’t mean that they are. Also, some STIs may not be detectable through testing for a few weeks—or even months—so you should talk to your health care provider about the right time to get tested.
Limit Your Sexual Partners
If you are going to have sex, have it with just one person and make sure you know his or her sexual history. The fewer partners you have, the less chance you’ll get an STI.
Avoid Alcohol & Drug Use
If you’re drunk or high, it’s hard to make good decisions about sex—lots of teens say they’ve done something when using drugs or alcohol that they might not have done if they were sober. Avoiding alcohol and drug use reduces the risk of contracting an STI, getting pregnant, or being coerced into having sex.
Types of STIs
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by bacteria that is passed from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the genitals, vagina, anus, or in the rectum. Sores can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis is especially contagious in the early stages of the disease, when sores are present. Even though it is curable with antibiotics, if syphilis isn’t treated, it can cause serious damage to your brain, heart, nervous system, and eventually lead to death. Condoms offer protection against HIV, which is most often spread through unprotected sex.
Chlamydia is the #1 STI in the United States. It is a bacterial infection that is passed during sexual contact and can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eye, or throat. The good news? Chlamydia can easily be cured with antibiotics. The bad news? Many teens don’t know they have it because it usually has no symptoms. If left untreated, it can cause serious health problems. You can use condoms to reduce your risk of getting chlamydia.
Herpes is a very common infection caused by two types of viruses that can affect your mouth (oral herpes) or genitals (genital herpes). Herpes is very easy to catch and can spread through touching, kissing, and/or sex with an infected person. Brief skin-to-skin contact is all that’s needed to pass the virus and there’s no cure for it—once you have it, you’ll have it forever (although there are some treatments out there to help you manage your symptoms). The most common symptom of genital herpes is a cluster of blistery sores but there are actually millions of people who do not know they have herpes because they’ve never had the symptoms. It’s crucial that, if you’re going to have sex, you know your partner’s history and use condoms every time you have sex (condoms can help prevent the spread of the disease).
Gonorrhea—a.k.a “the clap”—is caused by bacteria that grows and multiplies easily in the warm, moist areas of your body, including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, urethra, anus, mouth, throat, and eyes. Gonorrhea is pretty serious; if it isn’t treated, it can lead to sterility, arthritis, ectopic pregnancy, and heart problems. Yikes. More than 600,000 new cases of gonorrhea are reported every year in the U.S. but the good news is that Gonorrhea is easy to treat with antibiotics. Condoms help protect against gonorrhea.
HIV is passed to sex partners through blood, semen, seminal fluid (pre-cum), and vaginal fluids. You can get HIV from direct contact, like having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or sharing injection drug needles and syringes. Sometimes there are no signs of HIV at first—you might not know for sure that you’ve been infected until you get a blood test. Also, many people with HIV look healthy, but they can still transmit HIV. There is no cure, but treatments can help people with HIV/AIDS live for many years. Condoms offer protection against HIV, which is most often spread through unprotected sex.
HPV—the human papilloma virus—affects millions of teens and is spread by skin-to-skin contact, usually during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. A few types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer and other genital cancers and a few types can lead to genital warts. There is currently no treatment to cure HPV itself. Fortunately, there’s an HPV vaccine, which protects against the types of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer and the types that cause most cases of genital warts. The vaccine is most effective if you get it before you become sexually active.
These little blood-sucking bugs (eww!) nest in pubic hair and cause a lot of itching. Gross right? No contraception on the market right now will protect you from crabs. You can get them just by touching or being close to someone who has them—even if you don’t have sex! Occasionally they can actually jump from one person’s pubic hair to another’s and you can also can get them by sleeping in a bed, or wearing clothes from an infected person. Totally treatable, but totally gross.