- What is an STI?
- How common are STIs?
- How dangerous are STIs?
- What’s the difference between an STI and an STD?
- What types of STIs are there?
- How do you catch an STI?
- Can I catch an STI through oral sex?
- How can I tell if I have caught an STI?
- How are STIs treated?
- How can I protect myself from an STI?
A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is an infection spread through sexual activity. Anyone who is sexually active can catch an STI.
The number of people catching STIs has been rising since the 1990s. Between 2007 and 2008 alone, the Health Protection agency claims there were almost 400,000 new cases of STIs reported.
Because they’re often asymptomatic, the majority of people with STIs don’t realise they’ve contracted them; in fact, as many as 70% of women and 50% of men who have an STI don’t show any symptoms.
Mainly, STIs are minor infections that can be cured with a short course of antibiotics. However, some STIs are potentially much more threatening to your health, and if left untreated can cause serious complications.
With STIs like gonorrhoea and chlamydia widely publicised, it can be easy to forget that HIV is the most dangerous STI a sexually active person could contract. If you’ve contracted HIV, your immune system will be under attack from the human immunodeficiency virus. This weakens the immune system and leaves you more susceptible to developing a serious infection or disease. What’s more, HIV is incurable and once contracted can only be treated and managed.
Whilst STIs and STDs are technically different, STI is the term used for any sexually transmitted infection regardless of whether they are considered a disease or infection.
All STDs are STIs, but it’s not true to say that all STIs are STDs. The difference lies in the detail and separation between an infection and a disease. An infection is defined by the existence of bacteria, germs or parasites in the body and the person might not experience any symptoms. On the other hand, a disease is an abnormal condition in the body or mind which shows its symptoms.
The STIs that most commonly affect the British population include:
- Genital warts
- Genital herpes
- Public lice
Some STIs can be spread through non-sexual contact, such as kissing someone on the cheek. However, STIs are generally spread during sexual contact and usually through direct bodily fluid contact. They are most commonly spread during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
Yes. Sexually transmitted infections are transmitted through body fluid contact, which means that oral sex is one of the ways in which you can catch an STI. In fact, it’s one of the ways STIs are most frequently passed on.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of an STI, you shouldn’t panic; most STIs are curable with the right course of medication.
It’s important that you get yourself tested so that the right treatment can be prescribed to you. Even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms you should still get yourself tested. That’s because as many as 70% of women and 50% of men infected with STIs don’t show any symptoms, so they don’t realise they’ve contracted anything.
The key symptoms that affect men and women and hint at an STI contraction include experiencing pain when urinating; itching, burning or tingling around the genitals; blisters, sores, spots or lumps around the genitals or anus; and black powder or tiny white dots in your underwear. If you experience any of these symptoms, or others that concern you, you should seek medical help immediately.
Bacterial STIs are usually treated with a course of antibiotics and can be completely cured. However, viral STIs like HIV and genital herpes can’t be cured, but they can be treated and managed. Some antibiotics are prescribed as a one-off dose, whereas others might be prescribed as a course of treatment. What prescription you are issued will depend on what STI you’ve contracted and how severe your case is.
STIs are usually spread through direct bodily fluid contact, which means that your best protection against contracting an infection is to use a barrier contraceptive such as a condom.
You should note that condoms aren’t 100% effective in protecting against STIs: the only way to guarantee you don’t catch an STI is to abstain from sexual activity. If you choose to be sexually active, using a condom is the only way you can help prevent contracting an STI from your partner.