8 myths about STIs
"If I have an STI, I will know immediately"
In most women (and some men), there are often virtually NO symptoms of STIs. Not only can a partner not tell if a woman or man has an STI, the person with the STI often does not know either. It is therefore a good idea to have a regular check up at a GUM Clinic and always remember to use a condom if you are in a sexually active relationship...
“If I only have oral sex, I can’t contract a sexually transmitted infection"
STIs can be transmitted through oral sex, vaginal sex, anal sex and in some cases, heavy petting. Penetration is not required for disease transmission to occur. In fact, the number of cases of gonorrhoea of the throat are increasing!
"I am not promiscuous and neither are the people I knock about with so it’s unlikely that the people I would sleep with would be carrying something"
Females are more susceptible to acquiring STIs than males because their anatomy is more prone to infection in general. In addition, contracting STIs has nothing to do with cleanliness or grooming. Contracting an STI has everything to do with being intimate with someone who is already infected. The more partners you have or have had, the greater your chances of having an STI. The more partners your partner has or has had, the greater your partner’s chances of having a STI.
"I can avoid infection and pregnancy if I wash myself ‘downstairs’ immediately following sexual intercourse"
Some women believe that flushing the vagina with water or antiseptic is good hygiene, and prevents infection or pregnancy. However, doing this does not prevent infection and may cause problems by destroying useful bacteria in the vagina which help keep the area healthy. It’s just easier to use a condom.
"With 21st Century medicine, there is no need to worry about STIs. It only takes a course of antibiotics and you are fine again!"
To be fair, most STIs can be cured if they are caught in the early stages, and the treatment may be as simple as being prescribed a course of antibiotics. Remember though, medicines cannot cure all STIs, so prevention through safer sex is by far your best tactic. If STIs are left untreated, they can pose a long-term risk to your health and fertility so early detection of STIs is important, and there is a lot that medicine can do to help. The infections chlamydia and gonorrhoea can both lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if they are not treated. This can, in turn lead to long-term pelvic pain, blocked Fallopian tubes, infertility and ectopic pregnancy in women, and pain and inflammation of the testicles and the prostate gland in men. Genital warts and genital herpes are two common viral infections, so antibiotics will not treat them. They can be treated with antiviral medications, but both conditions can recur.
"Using ‘the pill’ or an IUD will protect me against STIs to some degree"
Non-barrier contraception methods (contraceptive pill, the coil) only offer protection against pregnancy. They do not offer any protection whatsoever against STIs! Using a condom to protect yourself against STIs is usually the best option. However, you may chose to combine condoms with the Pill or another contraceptive method for increased protection against unwanted pregnancy.
"People who use GUM clinics are promiscuous, I’d get a name for myself by going down there!"
People who use GUM clinics are people with the sense to get tested. If you have engaged in any sexual behaviour that could have put you at risk of an STI, you’d be well advised to head to your nearest GUM clinic. These clinics are completely confidential, and they will not even tell your GP about your visit without your permission. People of any age and sexual orientation can visit these clinics. All tests and treatments are free, and you can refer yourself to any clinic in the country: you only need to book for an appointment.
"The only people who get AIDS in this country are drug users and guys in homosexual relationships"
Heterosexual (boy/girl relationship) transmission has steadily increased over the last 15 years. In 2001 there were 2,225 reports of heterosexually transmitted AIDS. No-one can assume that they are not at risk of contracting AIDS or other STIs. Safer sex is the best way that you can limit your risk of the disease and that involves using a condom the proper way every time – not just every now and again.