Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs as we call them, are a bunch of contagious diseases that are sexually transmitted when the person has unprotected sex with the infected person. STDs are spread when bodily fluids are exchanged between a healthy and an infected person. The bacteria, viruses or parasites causing STDs are passed from one person to another via blood, semen, vaginal, and other bodily fluids.
Not many people know that not all STDs are sexually transmitted; some are passed on from an infected mother to their child during pregnancy and childbirth. Other forms of nonsexual transmission of sexually transmitted diseases are blood transfusion or shared needles.
Sexually transmitted diseases and infection symptoms can go silent for a long time and the infected person or the one coming in contact with them may not even know they have an infection.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) Signs & Symptoms
Sexually transmitted diseases may have wider symptoms or go unnoticed for a long time as they don’t show any symptoms at all. It is only after any complication is noticed or a partner is diagnosed when STDs come under the scanner. There are a few signs and symptoms that one associates with sexually transmitted diseases and infections, here they are:
- Genital, oral, or rectal sores and bumps
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating.
- Discharge from the penis.
- Unexplained vaginal discharge with a foul smell.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Widespread lymph nodes near the genital; area, particularly near the groin.
- Pain in the lower abdominal region.
- Rashes over hands, feet, and the trunk.
The more common signs and symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases start showing up a few days after the first exposure. However, the signs and symptoms take a long to show up before they are apparent to notice. The time for symptoms to show up also depends on the organism contracted during sexually transmitted diseases.
Common Types of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases are based on their type. Here are the commonly seen and reported types of sexually transmitted diseases:
- Chlamydia – a common type of sexually transmitted disease caused by a bacterial infection. It doesn’t show many symptoms before diagnosis but is treatable when detected.
- Genital Warts – genital warts are the growth around anal and genital areas. These are caused by certain types of Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV).
- Gonorrhoea – This is again a common type of STD caused by bacterial infection showing not many symptoms but is easily medically manageable once detected.
- Hepatitis B – It is a virus responsible for causing liver damage spread by intercourse or by sharing personal hygiene items like razors and toothbrushes with the infected person.
- Herpes – One of the most common sexually transmitted diseases that cause blisters and sores and often affect the mouth or genital area. There’s no cure for herpes but its symptoms are treatable.
- HIV & AIDS – HIV, an infection that can suppress and break down your immune system, can also lead to AIDS. There’s no sure-shot cure to HIV but symptomatic treatment helps keep the patient healthy for a long time.
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus) – Yet another common type of STD that isn’t harmful and usually goes away on its own. Some rare types of HPV can even lead to cancer.
- Syphilis – It is also a common bacterial infection that can be treated with medicines but can prove to be dangerous if left untreated.
Causes of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are caused by the following reasons:
- Bacteria – Gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections caused by bacteria.
- Parasites – Parasite infection causes Trichomoniasis.
- Viruses - HPV, genital herpes and HIV are sexually transmitted infections caused by viruses.
- Unprotected sexual contact with the infected person
- Exchange of bodily fluids via non-sexual behaviour.
- Passed on from mother to child via pregnancy.
- Via shared needles or blood transfusion.
Risk Factors for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Any individual who is sexually active is at some risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or infection. Here are the risk factors contributing to its spread:
- Unprotected Sex – Any activity with vaginal or anal penetration between an infected and healthy individual not wearing a latex condom are at risk for acquiring STDs or STIs. While oral sex is less risky, it still has chances of transmission if a dental dam isn’t used.
- Sexual Activity with Multiple Partners – Being sexually active with multiple partners puts you at an increased risk of having an STD or STI.
- History of STIs – Having a history of STI in the past makes you highly susceptible to holding another STI again.
- Forceful Engagement in Sexual Activity – It is highly likely to acquire an STI or STD after a rape or sexual assault. Going through a medical screening after such incidents is important.
- Alcohol & Substance Misuse – Substance or alcohol misuse makes you inhibit your judgement while prompting you to indulge in risky behaviours.
- Needle Sharing – Sharing needles while substance or drug consumption increases your chances of contracting serious infections like HIV, hepatitis B, and C.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases Complications
Since most people in their early stages of STDs or STIs don’t show up any symptoms, it gets even more important to get yourself screened at regular intervals to avoid any possible complications. Here are some of the complications of STDs and STIs:
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Eye inflammation
- Complications during pregnancy
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
- Heart disease
- HPV associated rectal and cervical cancers
How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
Here are some ways you can reduce your risk of getting STDs or STIs:
- Abstain – One of the most effective ways to avoid contracting STD or STI is to abstain, not having sex.
- Staying with one healthy partner – Yet another way of preventing an STD or STI is to stay in a sexual relationship with only one partner where both are healthy.
- Avoid unprotected sex – Avoid getting into anal or vaginal penetrative contact with multiple partners without protection. Use a latex condom for penetrative sex and a dental dam for oral one.
- Use condoms / dental dams appropriately – Use a new latex condom for each sexual activity and discard the same after every use. Avoid using any other protective barrier apart from an unused latex condom while having intercourse. Use appropriate dental dams while having oral sex to prevent the risk of transmission.
- Avoid alcohol/substance misuse – It is responsible to not indulge in alcohol or substance misuse before going for sexual activities to avoid any risky and unprotected behaviour.
- Go for male circumcision – Males going for circumcision have 60% less chances of contracting genital herpes and HPV.