Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs)
We talk about sex much more today than we ever have before. We accept our sexuality and display it
in the way we dress, talk and behave. So why is it that we don’t talk about the health issues involved
with sex? Why are the illnesses associated with sex still taboo?
Sexually transmissible infections (STIs) are common infections that don’t just go away if we don’t do
anything about them.
The key to prevention is communication. Talking about STIs freely helps to break down the taboos that
have developed. No one should ever feel embarrassed talking about safe sex or STIs. In fact, by using
your imagination a discussion about safe sex can be fantastic foreplay.
A dose of communication, combined with love and respect, is the perfect recipe for great safe sex!
Having an STI can mean anything from a minor inconvenience to a life-threatening disease. Some are
easily treated and others have no cure. The best way to deal with sexual illness is prevention, early
detection and early treatment.
Safe sex is about taking responsibility for your own health and being in control of
your own body.
Genital herpes is a very common viral infection. In fact, 1 in 5 people carries the virus.
It is transmitted through skin to skin contact mainly when small blister-like sores appear. However the
virus can be spread when sores are not present.
Often people do not know they have herpes because they do not recognize mild symptoms. As herpes
is a virus there is not yet a cure. However proper diagnosis is important as various treatments can
reduce the severity and frequency of an outbreak and may reduce the risk of transmission. Condoms
can give protection by preventing skin to skin contact.
Chlamydia is the most common of the notifiable STIs particularly amongst 20 - 25-year-olds. If you test
positive recent sexual partners must be notified and encouraged to go for a test.
Chlamydia is considered the ‘silent disease’ as there are often no obvious signs or symptoms. However,
it may cause pain when urinating and there is often a discharge from the vagina/penis. It is a bacterial
infection and can be cured with antibiotics.
Testing involves a simple urine test and/or cervical swab for women. If left untreated Chlamydia can
lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can result in infertility.
Gonorrhea is a bacteria spread through vaginal, oral or anal sex. It is also known as "The Clap", "The
Drip" and "A Dose". This is because the most obvious symptom is a pus-like discharge from the
penis/vagina, through up to 80% of women and some men have no symptoms whatsoever.
Gonorrhea is easily treated with antibiotics, however, if left untreated may lead to infertility in men
and women and swollen testicles in men.
Genital Warts are the most common STI. They are caused by strains of Human Papilloma Virus – HPV. It
is estimated that 2 in 3 people aged between 19 and 25 will at some time have HPV.
This group of viruses is spread through skin to skin contact during vaginal, anal and oral sex. HPV
infection is often invisible, so it is possible to be infected and not know you have it.
Having genital warts is not the end of the world, they can be treated but you may still carry the virus. If
you’re female and have HPV you must have Pap smears regularly.
HPV can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is an illness which affects the body’s immune system so that it is
unable to fight infections. It is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
HIV lives in blood, semen and vaginal fluids and is transmitted through unprotected anal or vaginal sex.
It is thought that there may be a slight risk of transmission during oral sex with an infected person so it
is best to use a condom or dam for oral sex too. Sharing needles and syringes will also put you at risk.
It can sometimes be transmitted from mother to baby through contact with infected blood or blood
products and via breast milk.
In the first few months after infection, some people may experience flu-like symptoms. However many
experience no symptoms for years.
Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, but early diagnosis is important as there are a number of
treatments available to manage the illness.
Hepatitis B can be found in blood, semen, vaginal fluid and body secretions and is transmitted by
vaginal, anal and oral sex or by sharing needles and syringes.
Many people infected with the virus show no symptoms of infection while some people may
experience jaundice, dark urine, lethargy and abdominal pains.
After initial infection 5 - 10% of people will remain infectious. Of these, some will go on to develop
cirrhosis of the liver and/or liver cancer, as the long-term effects of Hepatitis B. There is no cure though
experimental treatments are being developed.
Australian medical authorities recommend that everybody is vaccinated against Hepatitis B