STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are passed from person to person through sexual contact with someone who already has the infection. STIs can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex or during genital touching; so it’s possible to get contract STIs without having intercourse.

Because many STIs have no symptoms, they can often go undiagnosed.  Sometimes women who experience symptoms are embarrassed to come in for testing, or think the problem will just go away. Other times, STI symptoms can be mistaken for something else, like a urinary tract infection or yeast infection. When untreated, STIs can potentially lead to serious issues like PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), pregnancy complications, spreading of the infection to other body parts, infertility and even death. STIs also increase the risk for HIV.

This chart from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services lists the names and symptoms of some of the most common STIs.

How can STIs be prevented?

  • Abstinence, or not having sex or sexual contact – the only sure way to avoid getting an STI. Remember that certain STIs like herpes can be transmitted without sexual contact.
  • Practice monogamy and faithfulness to one partner
  • Limit the number of sexual partners you have
  • Proper use of condoms – use a new condom every time you have sex, with a water-based lubricant to guard against breakage.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – they can make you more likely to take chances while having sex.
  • Do not douche – douching can force bacteria and germs further into the vagina or disturb the natural balance of vaginal fluids.
  • Remember that contraceptives like birth control pills, sponges and diaphragms do not prevent STIs
  • Have regular check-ups and physical exams

As in all heath issues, prevention is key. Since symptoms may not be present, it is important to talk to Dr. Hessel about testing for various STIs, especially if you are sexually active with more than one partner. The type of tests you need will depend on your sexual history. Talking to a doctor about your sex life may seem too personal to share, but Dr. Hessel’s priority is taking care of you, and honesty and openness are essential for a great doctor-patient relationship. Even if you have no immediate concerns, regular STI testing can catch infections and other issues in the early stages. It may even save your life.