I often write about intimate hygiene and the importance of taking good care of your reproductive health. A big part of it is sexual health. Sexual wellness isn’t only about understanding your needs and body but also about safe and consensual sexual relationships.
One of the biggest threats to your sexual health is sexually transmitted infections (STI) and diseases. I believe that people lack knowledge about STIs, prevention, and living with incurable conditions.
Many people still associate STIs with taboos and something dirty, but like any other infection, it impairs your health and well-being, that’s why it’s important to understand how to prevent it and get necessary treatment if you’ve been exposed to STIs.
Who is prone to STIs?
Anyone can get an STI, but you can limit your chances if you take preventative measures. While many of these infections can be cured with special treatment and antibiotics, hepatitis B, herpes simplex virus (HSV or herpes), HIV, and human papillomavirus (HPV) (which is the leading cause of cervical cancer) are incurable.
That means if someone contracts one of these infections, they can’t be cured; only their viral pathogens can be reduced to a minimum. However, there are vaccines for human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B.
While there’s a stigma surrounding STIs, World Health Organization estimates that around one million STI cases are recorded each day. Records prove that 500 million people live with genital herpes, 300 million women worldwide have an HPV infection, and 240 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis B.
STI symptoms are often hard to spot. Some people experience an acute reaction when infected, and some show no signs at all or only in the later infection development stages.
If you had intimate contact with an infected person and noticed any of these symptoms and suspect it could be due to an STI, you should immediately seek medical attention:
- Itching and irritation in the genital area;
- Abnormal vaginal discharge;
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse;
- Fever and chills;
- Sores or blisters on genitals;
- Pain when urinating;
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Many other conditions can cause similar symptoms, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and check in with your health practitioner to prevent the spread and complications.
How long can STIs lay dormant?
An STI can lay dormant for years without showing any symptoms. One of the hardest to spot is HIV. A lot of people find out they have the virus only when the infection progresses. That’s why it’s crucial to do STI tests regularly, especially if you had a new partner.
What happens if you have an STD for too long?
It depends on the infection and your body’s reaction. However, even curable STIs can cause serious complications such as chronic pelvic pain or pelvic inflammatory disease if left untreated. Some STIs can leave an infected person infertile or even cause cervical or ovarian cancer. Also, incurable viruses like HIV, if left untreated, can develop into AIDS, which might lead to organ failure, sepsis, pneumonia, and even death.
How STIs spread?
STIs are caused by viruses, bacteria, or in some cases, parasites. These pathogens can be transmitted through semen, vaginal secretion, blood, urine, and sometimes saliva. It’s a myth that you can catch an STI just by being around an infected person or touching them. Only if it’s a herpes simplex virus can it be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Knowing that for STDs to spread, people need to exchange bodily fluids can help you pick the best tools to prevent it, which I’ll be talking more about below.
Living with an incurable STD
If you suspect you caught a sexually transmitted infection, seek medical attention immediately. Most of the patients recover fully by taking prescription medicine. However, if your doctor diagnoses you with one of the STIs that cannot be cured, it’s important to know your options.
Today, medicine is advanced enough so that people with incurable STDs live normal and healthy lives. A few decades ago, diseases like HIV were a death sentence, now, people receive treatment and antiviral drugs that minimize the virus to a level where it’s undetectable and can’t be spread. And while it is daunting to hear a diagnosis like this, you shouldn’t feel ashamed or scared.
The first step to prevention is practicing safe sex. Even if you have sex with only one person, you can still be exposed to STIs. So, before you know about your partner’s sexual health status, you should either abstain from sex or use barrier contraception methods. When having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, use condoms and dental dams to prevent spreading or catching an infection.
If you have an incurable STI, you should let your partner know before getting physical. And you should refrain from sex if you have active symptoms such as open sores or blisters anywhere on your body.
Building intimacy and relationships
Finding out that you have a chronic disease is never easy. It’s even more challenging to accept that you have an incurable STI. Our society still shames people for contracting STIs even though a significant part of the human population has been or will be exposed to at least one STI throughout their lives.
This stigma often prevents people from getting tested and openly communicating with their partners about getting tested.
If you have an incurable infection, you should always let your partners know beforehand. It can be challenging to face rejection, but communication is key to genuine connections.
You don’t need to convince people to be intimate with you, but prepare to explain that having an STI doesn’t mean you can or will infect others. It can be challenging to reach a state where you feel comfortable talking about your condition and building relationships. But remember, millions of people are going through the same thing. And thanks to advanced medication, most of them live fulfilling lives and build relationships.
If you find that your condition puts a strain on your mental health, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can find many free resources that help people exposed to STIs find their way of living with an infection. A trained psychologist can also help sort your thoughts out.
It’s normal to feel lost, question, and blame yourself. But try to be kind to yourself because there’s no shame in having a chronic condition. You might find it helpful to engage with people who are on a similar journey. You can find many inspiring individuals who transformed their lives and learned how to live a happy and fulfilling life while battling an STI.
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