More than half of all Americans will get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) at some point in their lifetime. If you’re one of them, how will your sex life be affected, during and after treatment? First, let’s take a quick look at some general facts.
The majority of STIs are asymptomatic, which means that there are no signs of an infection and the person may not know that he or she has an STI. So unbeknownst to them, they may pass the infection on to others during sex, unless they use safer sex methods such as condoms and dental dams. Only if that person chooses to get a routine STI check-up will they be diagnosed correctly and can get treated. That is why it is a really good idea for sexually active individuals to check their STI status either at their health provider’s office or at the health department (972-6217)—especially if they have had multiple partners.
Got a new partner? Make sure to talk about each other’s sexual histories and STI status. Of course, this can be an awkward subject to address, but would you buy a new house without having it inspected first, or at least knowing where the leaks are?
Prevention obviously is the key, but what do you do when the bug has already struck? Well, it depends on what type of bug it is, since they all require different treatment strategies. There are basically two types of infections. There are bacterial infections such as Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis (“Trich”), Gonorrhea, and Syphilis, and then there are virus infections such as Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Chronic Hepatitis C. And with over 50,000 new cases estimated in the U.S. each year, HIV is a big concern as well.
Here’s the good news: bacterial infections can be easily treated with antibiotics. The bad news: There are no medicines to cure viral infections. Visible genital warts (HPV) can be removed, but not all HPV infections are visible. Usually your body fights HPV on its own and your immune system eventually clears the virus.
However, there are no firm rules as to when this typically happens, and it’s best to have a frank discussion with your health provider about your specific situation and what types of precautions you need to take with your sexual partner. Obviously, you need to avoid unprotected sexual contact while you have visible genital warts—it’s the best way to prevent passing on the virus to a partner. Once again, there is no substitute to prevention and I highly recommend the new vaccination against HPV with Gardasil (see page 19 for more on this vaccine).
If you or your partner has Herpes (HSV), you should avoid sexual contact during outbreaks, but that’s not all there is to it. You also need to be concerned about asymptomatic viral shedding, which is potential spreading of the virus even when there is no active outbreak. Avoid skin contact with areas where the herpes outbreak usually occurs. Barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams can prevent transmission of the virus. And they can help prevent transmission of HIV by blocking an exchange of body fluids that may contain the virus.
If you have one of the treatable bacterial infections, all sexual partners should be checked and (if infected) treated, and you need to hold off on sexual contact until the end of the treatment, to avoid re-infection. Be sure to get clear guidelines from your health provider about when you can resume having sex after treatment.