Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sex can be fun and pleasurable. But if you want to stay healthy, you need to take care.

When you have a sexual contact there is a risk of you picking up a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) from your partner. In fact, 1 in 2 sexually active young people will get an STI by the age of 25, and most won’t even know it.

STIs are currently on the rise in Ireland. To be safe, you need to have all the facts and know how to protect yourself.

Who is at risk?

  • STIs are increasing in Ireland, especially among young sexually active people.
  • Many young people in Ireland have chlamydia, without knowing they have it.
  • You can get an STI the first time you have sex.
  • You don’t need to have penetrative sex to get an STI.

How do you know you have an STI?

  • Often you can have an STI and have no symptoms.
  • It is possible to have more than one STI at a time.
  • The best way to find out if you have an STI is to have a test.

 

Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Unusual or unpleasant discharge from your vagina, penis, or anus.
  • Unusual pain during sexual intercourse.
  • ”Spotting” (bleeding) between periods.
  • Pain and swelling in the groin and testes (balls).
  • Irritation, rashes, sore patches, lumps around the genitals or anus.

How can you reduce the risk of STIs?

  • Practice safer sex – use condoms correctly and every time you have sex.
  • Avoid oral sex if you or your partner have sores on the mouth, gums or genitals.
  • Reduce your number of sex partners.
  • Always use a quality condom and a lubricant when having anal sex, as it has a higher risk of STIs.
  • Be mindful of your use of drugs and alcohol, as they can make you do things you might regret and leave you more open to taking risks.
  • Have regular check-ups for STIs.
  • Have an STI screening with your partner before starting a new sexual relationship.
  • If you are worried that you may have an STI, seek help.
  • If you have an STI you may be advised to avoid vaginal, oral and anal sex during treatment until you are clear of infection.

Where can you get help?

  • The Sexual Health Centre offers full STI screenings every Wednesday. Contact our Helpline (021 4276676) to learn more.
  • Your local Sexual Transmitted Infections Clinic or Genitourinary Medicine Clinic (GUM Clinic) offers free and confidential screening (testing) and treatment. The clinics can be busy, so it is best to telephone to make an appointment.
  • If you are under 23, you can contact the Youth Health Service (YHS) on 021 4220490/1.
  • Some infections take time to show up in your system so don’t worry if you don’t get an appointment straight away.

Treatment

  • Bacterial infections such as chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea are treated with antibiotics.
  • Warts are treated with solutions to burn, freeze or dry them off. But the virus may remain in your body.
  • Herpes cannot be cured but treatments can help avoid or relieve some of the symptoms to help stop people becoming sick.
  • HIV cannot be cured but very effective treatments are now available that can allow you to have sex without transmitting the virus to your partner.
  • Pubic lice and scabies are treated with lotions.
  • If a woman has genital herpes when having a baby she may have to have a caesarean section (an operation to deliver the baby).

The most common STIs

Chlamydia

(pronounced cla-mid-e-a) is the most common curable bacterial infection.

Why should you care?

Chlamydia is increasing in Ireland, especially among young sexually active people, who might have it without knowing about it. If you leave chlamydia untreated you can get serious infections and may become infertile (not able to get pregnant).

What can you do about it?

Have regular STI screenings. Once detected, chlamydia can be easily treated with special antibiotics prescribed at a clinic.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

HIV is a virus that damages the immune system.

Why should you care?

Once HIV is in your body, it is there forever. If untreated, HIV can cause AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

What can you do about it?

While there is no cure for HIV, it is preventable (see above). With treatments, you can help stop it damaging your immune system. You can learn more about HIV here. The Sexual Health Centre also offers free rapid HIV testing. Contact us to learn more.

It is important to remember that with appropriate treatment people with HIV can have healthy sexual life without the risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partner. The ActUp group focuses on creating public awareness for this fact and the U=U (Undetectable=Untrasmittable) program.

Genital warts

Genital warts are caused by a virus (the human papilloma virus). They can be small or large lumps. The warts you can get on your hands are different from the ones on your genitals.

Why should you care?

Genital warts are the most common STI in Ireland. You can pass on the wart virus fairly easily by skin contact. Warts are easy to treat but the wart virus can sometimes be in your body for about a year before you see any growths. You could pass it on without even knowing you have it. Once you get the wart virus it can stay in your body for a number of years.

What can you do about them?

Warts can be removed by covering them in a liquid or cream that will burn or freeze them off. It may take a few treatments at a clinic to remove them.

Genital herpes

Genital herpes (pronounced gen-it-al hurr-pees) is caused by a virus called herpes simplex. Type l of this virus is normally found around the mouth and causes what we know as cold sores. Almost all cold sores are not an STI. Type 2 is normally found around the genital area and causes genital herpes.

Why should you care?

Once you have the herpes virus it stays in your body. It is possible to pass on cold sores from the mouth to the genital area through oral sex. The eyes, fingers and breasts can also be infected. If a woman has herpes sores when having a baby she may have to have a caesarean section (an operation to deliver the baby).

What can you do about it?

You can get treatment to help with the symptoms. To relieve the symptoms you can keep the genital area cool and dry, wear loose cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing and sunlight.

Pubic lice (crabs)

Pubic lice are small insects that live in areas of the body with coarse hair (not the head), especially the groin. They can also live in armpits, eyebrows and eyelashes. They are different to head lice.

Why should you care?

Pubic lice can be irritating and embarrassing and you can easily pass them on to someone else even without having sexual intercourse. They are most common in young people.

What can you do about it?

You will need to cover your body with a special lotion to kill off the lice and their eggs which lie in the root of the pubic hair. Waxing and shaving will not get rid of them. Pubic lice can be embarrassing but do not cause serious health problems.