Some ways to reduce the chance of having sexual contact with a member of the infected pool, and thus of becoming part of that pool include:
- If you are born of uninfected parents and abstain from sexual activity, your chances of acquiring STD are remote. Abstinence (not having sex) makes life fairly uninteresting and cannot be recommended as a realistic option.
- You can enjoy a varied and active sex life with very little risk of infection if you are careful in selecting your partners. Some of the characteristics of individuals in high risk groups are discussed on the safer sex guidelines page. The most important factor is familiarity with your partner, with whom you should have a steady social and monogamous sexual relationship. Risk of getting infection is greatly increased by having sex with a casual acquaintance, whether a sex worker, a businessman, or any occupational grouping. If he or she had sex on a casual basis with you, he or she has probably done so with others, some of whom may have had an STD.
- If you cannot resist the thrill of having sex with each new acquaintance, you can take many measures to minimise infection even if some of your partners are infected. Examining your sex partner may be feasible (particularly if you are a woman) and frequently reveals evidence of infection. Use of a condom greatly reduces the risk of passing on infection to either partner and also protects the female from pregnancy. Urination immediately after coitus and thorough washing of the genitals with soap and water are probably of very limited value but are better than nothing.
- After unprotected sex with a casual partner, seek medical examination before further sexual activity. Symptoms show an immediate need for such medical care, but it is important to remember that infection in both men and women may not show symptoms. Freedom from symptoms is an unreliable guide to freedom from infection.
- Once medical treatment is started, it is essential to undergo all prescribed re-examinations until cure can be proven, to assist in ensuring that all sex partners are examined to prevent reinfection, and to refrain from sexual activity until proof of cure.
Accepting at least one of these alternatives should not prove too restrictive of any individual’s sex life. The behaviour of a large proportion of western society currently conforms to these guidelines, but until virtually everyone does, sexually transmitted diseases will not be controlled.
How do I know if I have an STD?
Because there are many different STDs, there are many possible signs that you may have caught one. Sometimes there are no signs at all. If you are sexually active, it is sensible to have a check-up for STDs every so often, just in case.
These are some of the signs that you have caught an STD. The signs of HIV infection are not included here (see details in HIV/AIDS section):
- Unusual discharge of any fluid from the penis or vagina
- Pain or irritation when urinating, or during intercourse
- Sores, blisters, ulcers, warts, lumps or rashes anywhere in the genital or anal area
- Itchiness or irritation in the genital or anal area
- Persistent or recurring diarrhoea
Of course, some of these signs may be caused by things other than STDs. But if you have any of them, you should see a doctor at once. Don’t just wait for them to go away; even if they do, this does not mean the disease has gone. Some STDs may cause a generalised illness including some forms of jaundice.
Most STDs can go undetected and cause serious illness later. Having no symptoms is no guarantee that you do not have a sexually transmitted disease. And you will still be able to infect other people you have sex with.
If you have symptoms of STD, you can check the “Should I see a doctor?” section to help you decide how to seek help.
How can I avoid STDs?
It is not difficult to avoid catching STDs. The risk of catching the more serious STDs can be reduced by using condoms during vaginal or anal sex. Scientific research has shown that latex condoms are an effective barrier against HIV and the viruses and bacteria that cause major STDs (but, some STDs, like herpes and wart virus, can spread through any skin-to-skin contact).
Condoms, though, will only protect you against disease if you use them every time you have sex. Sometimes is not good enough. Information about how to use condoms.
Other Ways to Avoid STDs
- Not to have sex at all. You should not feel you have to have sex if you don’t want to.
- To have sex only in ways that do not spread major STDs. Kissing, sensuous touching and mutual masturbation are safe in terms of all serious STDs.
- To have sex only with a single partner in a monogamous relationship (that is, where neither partner has any other sexual partners). This is only safe if the relationship is really monogamous, and if both partners have been tested for STDs and are uninfected.