Sexual health can be embarrassing to talk about, however, a lot of young people have similar questions. Here are the answers to 10 frequently asked questions young people have about sexual health.
1. What is an STI?
Sexually Transmitted Infections or STIs (sometimes known as STD’s for “sexually transmitted diseases”) are infections that are transferred through bodily fluids. Because teens are more at risk for getting some STIs, it’s important to learn what you can do to protect yourself.
STIs are more than just an embarrassment. They’re a serious health problem. If untreated, some STIs can cause permanent damage, such as infertility (the inability to have a baby) and even death (in the case of HIV/AIDS).
2. How common are STIs?
Each year, an estimated 333 million new cases of curable STIs occur worldwide with the highest rates among 20-24 year olds, followed by 15-19 year olds (World Health Organization, Sexually Transmitted Infections among Adolescents). In Australia, three quarters of reported STIs occur in people aged between 15 and 29 years.
3. How can I get an STI?
If you don’t practice safe sex you are at risk of getting an STI. STIs are found in semen, blood, vaginal secretion (fluid discharge from the vagina) and sometimes saliva, and are passed on through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.
4. I’m taking birth control. Can I still get an STI?
STIs are transferred through unprotected sex. Birth control options, such as “the pill”, IUD (intrauterine device), diaphragm or contraceptive implant, may help prevent pregnancy, but they do not protect you against STIs. The only form of birth control that will reduce your risk of getting an STI is the Latex Condom.
5. Can I still get an STI if I don’t “sleep around”?
Yes, you can. If you’ve ever had unprotected sex with anyone who has an STI, you could get an STI – this includes vaginal, oral and anal sex. STIs don’t only happen to people with many sexual partners. Even if you are in a long-term relationship now, you or your partner may have been infected in a previous relationship without knowing it. With many STIs, symptoms don’t show for months or even years. The only way to know for sure is to get a test.
6. Can I get an STI from masturbating?
No. You cannot get an STI through self-masturbation. However, you are at risk of getting some STIs through mutual masturbation caught through cuts or open sores on hands, fingers or genitals. Mutual masturbation is when two people touch each other for sexual pleasure.
7. Would I know if I had an STI?
Many people who have an STI don’t have any obvious symptoms or signs. So you may not necessarily know if you have an STI until you go for a Sexual Health check with a doctor.
8. I think I might have an STI. What should I do?
If you think you have an STI, you want to get an STI test for precaution, or you just have specific medical questions, you need to go to a sexual heath clinic or a doctor. If an STI is left unchecked the problem can get worse. Many STIs can be effectively treated and those that can’t be cured can often be better controlled with treatment.
9. If I’ve had a pap smear does that mean I’ve had a sexual health check?
No. Pap smears will only screen for the HPV (human papillomavirus) not for other STIs like Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and HIV. It’s a good idea to ask for a sexual health test when you go to get a pap smear.
10. What is HIV?
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). HIV damages the immune system leading to serious infections. To avoid getting the virus, always use a condom with water-based lubricant.
Although rates of HIV have remained relatively stable in Australia over the past three years, there is still about 1000 new cases diagnosed each year. HIV does not discriminate and can affect anyone of any gender, age, race or sexuality. There is no known cure, however, medicine continues to improve and are available for people with HIV to slow the progress of the virus.
- Australian Government Department of Health, Frequently asked questions about STI, 2014, http://www.sti.health.gov.au.
- RedAware, Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Health, http://www.redaware.org.au.
- TeensHealth, About Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 2014, www.kidshealth.org.