I'm hoping that you have finished whatever you might be eating because this blog post is all about getting real when it comes to (STI's (Sexually Transmitted Infections).
When I was growing up, people just referred to them as "VD" or "venereal diseases", and they would laugh about going to the doctor to get some penicillin to get rid of them. Basically, I remember learning very, very little about STI's when I was growing up. The one exception was HIV/AIDS since I was in high school in the late 1980's.
Sometime in the last 10 years, sex educators and people in academia have shifted their language from STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) to STI. I'm sure there were numerous reasons for the shift, and one of them is getting rid of the stigma the word "disease" brings with it.
Basically STI's fall into 3 categories: bacterial, viruses, and parasites.
Surprisingly, a huge number of STI's have either no or minimal symptoms. When they are diagnosed, STI medical care and treatment in the United States alone is estimated at $13 billion per year.
Here is a little break down of the usual suspects when it comes to bacterial STI's
About 4 million new infections in the United States each year. 75% of women and 50% of men show no symptoms of this bacterial infection. It is usually transmitted through bodily fluids, and is curable with antibiotics. In addition to the genital area, Chlamydia can result in eye and throat infections. That's right people, it may not actually be pink eye or strep throat. If left untreated, it can result in infertility in women.
About 700k new infections in the United States each year. It is common to not show any signs or symptoms, but when it does, it usually results in a thick, cloudy, or bloody vaginal discharge that may be accompanied by painful and frequent urination in women and a thick yellowish/greenish discharge from the penis. Some people call it "the big drip". Can also affect the anus, throat, and eyes. Gonorrhea usually presents itself very distinctly in the eyes. The eye swells with fluid and closes. Most doctors have learned, from experience, that they need to open the eyelid by standing to the side of the patient instead of in front of the patient because the fluid will spurt out when the eye is pried open. Gonorrhea is passed through bodily fluids and can cause sterility in both women and men as well as infection in major organs like the heart, brain, and liver. It is cured by antibiotics, but some strains are becoming resistant.
About 31k new infections each year in the United States, and it is has particularly affected the San Francisco men who have sex with men population. There is even a campaign called the "Healthy Penis" to address the rising syphilis rates.
Syphilis has 3 different stages of infection.
Stage 1: painless sores that last between 3 and 6 weeks then disappear. People often report getting swollen glands and skin rashes.
Stage 2: new sores, flu-like symptoms, swollen glands and muscle pain.
Stage 3: severe and irreversible damage to the body including dementia and death.
Syphilis is usually passed through skin to skin contact and is curable with antibiotics, but the person needs to follow directions and take the entire course of treatment.
**Remember that sexually active people should get regularly tested for STI's every 3 to 4 months. Your local community health clinic, Planned Parenthood, and university health clinics routinely test for STI's so don't be embarrassed about asking or getting tested. They are also fairly cheap (using a sliding scale or some are even free if you qualify) so regular testing is an important step in taking control of your sexual health.