Amazingly, some freshers still manage to get through their A levels and chuckle their way through year 8 sex education classes without possessing a fully-formed understanding of the different sexually transmitted infections they are at risk of contracting when having unprotected sex.
Now officially an adult, it may be a bit embarrassing to ask exactly what your genital discharge signifies, so the guys at Freedoms Shop have compiled the three STIs you’re most likely to encounter, how to spot them, avoid them and ultimately treat them.
Almost half of all new STI diagnoses are Chlamydia. Every year hundreds of thousands of people test positive for Chlamydia, with roughly two-thirds aged 25 or under. Caused by vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who has the infection, as well as sharing sex toys – Chlamydia is easily spread!
Chlamydia does not show any symptoms in roughly 70-80% of affected women. Despite this it can lead to infertility, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy (fertilised eggs implant itself outside of the womb), making it incredibly important that you get tested for Chlamydia if you have had a sexual partner, or have a new partner.
When women do suffer symptoms, they are most commonly:
Change in vaginal discharge
- Lower abdomen pain
- Pain and/or bleeding during sex
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between periods
Men can also have Chlamydia without any symptoms, but when they do get them, the most common are:
- Pain during urination
- White, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis
- Testicle pain
Again, untreated Chlamydia in men can lead to infertility, arthritis and swollen testicles – so get tested.
The best method to check if you have Chlamydia is to get tested with a partner. Find your closest sexual health clinic with the NHS, here. Additionally, use a condom or another form of protection when having sex with a new partner – even if no penetration is involved.
For such a potentially serious infection, the treatment of Chlamydia is very quick and straight-forward. Usually, a one-off dose of antibiotics OR antibiotics for a week will clear it completely – but make sure your sexual partner(s) are treated too so it doesn’t spread to others or re-infect you.
Genital warts are the silent stalkers of the STI world, caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common skin virus. Although painless and not a serious risk to health – genital warts are unpleasant to look at, disruptive when the mood is getting sexy, and potentially psychologically damaging.
There are roughly 30 different stands of HPV and genital warts account for almost a fifth of all new STI diagnoses. The infection is spread through skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the infection, either during sexual intercourse or non-penetrative genital contact. It can’t be spread on sex toys or from warts on the hands or other parts of the body – genital warts only like genital skin.
The warts themselves are the most common symptoms, although many sufferers will never experience visible warts. These visible warts will manifest themselves as small, fleshy, firm growths, bumps and skin changes around the genitals and the anus. Warts usually become noticeable, when a few group together to create a ‘cauliflower’ appearance.
Genital warts in women are most commonly found:
- Around the vulva
- At the entrance to the vagina
- On the perineum (area of skin between the vagina and the anus)
- Around the anus
Whereas men most commonly experience warts:
- On the penis shaft and top of penis
- Sometimes on the scrotum
- Around or inside the anus.
However, the majority of people with HPV don’t ever have visible warts so don’t know they’ve got the virus and can pass it to others.
Condoms can help reduce the risk of getting genital warts, although infected parts of the skin may be outside of the condom’s jurisdiction so could come into contact with the partner. There is no general test for genital warts or HPV, so the best thing to do if you are worried about any new lumps or bumps in the genital area, go to your local sexual health clinic who can tell you if they are warts and discuss treatment options.
HPV vaccines are currently offered to all year 8 girls in the UK. The two HPV vaccinations available in the UK are Cervarix and Gardasil – Patient.co.uk offers a more in-depth guide to the two vaccinations.
The treatment for genital warts depends on the type and how many there are – but the vast majority are treated with freezing (applied at the clinic) or the application of a cream or lotion (which you can apply at home).
Sometimes referred to as The Clap; gonorrhoea accounts for roughly 7% of all new STI diagnoses in the UK. On average, more than 25,000 new cases are reported every year with the vast majority involving men and women under the age of 25.
This bacterial infection is spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex as well as sharing toys with an infected partner without first washing the toy or placing protection over it. If treated swiftly, gonorrhoea can be cleared with no complications – however, when left untreated, gonorrhoea can spread to reproductive organs and lead to infertility.
In the most serious cases, untreated gonorrhoea can spread through the bloodstream and cause inflammation of joints and tendons, and skin irritation and redness
The symptoms of gonorrhoea usually manifest within a week to 10 days, and in women can include:
- Change in vaginal discharge
- Painful urination
- Pain in the lower abdominal region
- Bleeding between periods, heavier periods and bleeding after sex
However, many women have no symptoms at all.
The symptoms in men can include:
- Thick green or yellow discharge from the tip of the penis
- Painful or burning urination
- Inflammation of the foreskin
- Testicle pain
Men are more likely to get symptoms of gonorrhoea, but like women can have the infection without realising, and then pass it to a sexual partner.
Gonorrhoea cannot be passed via kissing, hugging, sharing baths or towels or through pools and toilet seats as the bacteria cannot survive outside the human body.
This means the most successful preventative method is ensuring your partner has the all-clear before having sex and insisting upon using condoms or other forms of protection when sleeping with new partners.
The most common form or treatment is an antibiotic injection in the buttocks or thigh, followed by an antibiotic tablet. Sometimes it is possible to have an additional tablet instead of the injection if the sufferer has an aversion to needles.
It is recommended people who have had treatment for gonorrhoea go for a check-up one or two weeks later to check they are clear of the infection. It’s advisable to wait until given the all-clear before having sex again. People who have had treatment for the infection are not vaccinated and protected against contracting it again in the future.