It’s STD Awareness Week and we’re talking all things STI risk! Most of the activities we partake in every day have some degree of risk—driving a car, eating at a restaurant, going for a jog all carry a risk of injury that we’ve decided is worth it to make our lives easier, more fun, and more pleasurable. Sex is no different. STIs and other infections are common side effects of sex that usually aren’t serious, yet we carry a lot of fear, anxiety, and stigma about them in our minds. How worried should you actually be about your health when you’re sexually active? (Hint: it’s not as bad as you think.)
Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, isn’t technically an STI, but most infections are associated with sexual activity. BV infections occur when the normal balance of bacteria in your vagina is thrown off—researchers aren’t sure how this happens. There hasn’t been too much research on the transmission and recurrence of BV (ahem, sexism in medical research), but there is data that suggests a new sex partner or having multiple partners can increase your chances of developing BV. Douching and not wearing condoms can also increase your BV risk. Since there’s no way to know exactly what, or who, may set off an infection, it’s usually best not to stress too much over it. BV is easily treatable with antibiotics and there are simple steps you can take to maintain the health of your vagina and help reduce your risk. A few basic lifestyle changes like avoiding douches, using unscented soaps, wearing loose clothing, and opting for showers over baths can make a big difference in keeping your vaginal environment healthy.
If you want a little extra BV-fighting power, using Boric Acid suppositories as part of your routine can help your vagina maintain a healthy pH and keep “bad bacteria” from growing out of control. Use it right after sex to help prevent BV, yeast infections, and UTIs!
Herpes is one of the most anxiety-inducing of all the STIs, yet it’s also one of the most common and the most harmless. Despite carrying a lot of stigma, the herpes virus doesn’t cause life-threatening illness and is typically easily controlled by antiviral medications. In fact, the CDC doesn’t recommend herpes testing as part of regular STI screening (testing when symptoms aren’t present). This is for a few reasons:
- Screening does not help reduce the spread of the virus. Studies have shown that a herpes diagnosis doesn’t change people’s sexual behaviors, especially in those who do not experience any symptoms. This is likely due to our societal stigma around herpes—people often find it difficult to talk about with partners.
- Herpes blood testing is unreliable. False positives and false negatives are possible with herpes blood testing. The most accurate way to get a diagnosis is by swabbing an active outbreak.
- The stigma of a herpes diagnosis can cause more harm than the virus itself. Herpes stigma often leads people to feel anxiety, shame, depression, and embarrassment after being diagnosed. While this shouldn’t be the case (and we’re doing what we can to help smash these stigmas!) the effects of stigma are still very real and can be harmful.
- Herpes does not lead to life-threatening illness. Unlike HIV and syphilis which do progress and become life-threatening, or chlamydia and gonorrhea which can impact your fertility in the long run, herpes doesn’t increase in severity over time. The virus persists in your system and may cause the occasional outbreak, but leaving it untreated doesn’t negatively impact your health.
Despite all the anxiety and worry over herpes, it’s actually one of the STIs that you should be worrying about the least! Even though it’s not curable, it’s effects on your life are likely to be minor—millions of people continue to date, enjoy romance, and lead fulfilling sex lives with herpes.
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most common STIs around and they often go hand in hand—if you have one, it’s common to have the other. These two STIs are part of regular STI screening and the tests are often covered completely by insurance. The CDC estimates that in 2018 there were approximately 4 million chlamydia infections in the US. Although most infections are easily resolved with a round of antibiotics, there are two important things to keep in mind with these STIs.
- Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea has been on the rise in recent years. The overuse of antibiotics combined with many opportunities for gonorrhea to evolve has resulted in strains of gonorrhea that are able to outsmart almost all of the antibiotics that have been used to treat it. If gonorrhea becomes fully antibiotic resistant, it would be a much more dangerous infection than it is today! This is part of the reason it’s important to be screened regularly and to take all antibiotics completely as directed.
- Left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can develop into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which can eventually affect your fertility. Since both of these STIs are often asymptomatic, regular STI screenings can help protect your health and ensure that you aren’t letting them progress unknowingly.
If you’ve tested positive for chlamydia and/or gonorrhea, wisp can help treat you! You can complete an STI consultto get same-day treatment. If you haven’t been positively diagnosed yet, we can also send you a lab slip so you can get tested at a local lab near you so you can be sure you’re getting the proper treatment.
How do condoms help?
We know you hear it all the time, but condoms and other barrier methods (like dental dams) are the best way to reduce your risk of contracting or spreading an STI. They are extremely effective at preventing STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea that are spread through genital fluids. They are somewhat less effective at preventing herpes, genital warts (HPV), and syphilis which can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, but still help reduce your risk.
Where can I get tested?
Wisp can write you a lab slip so you can get tested at your local lab, like a Labcorp or Quest location, but if you don’t have insurance, lab fees can be quite expensive. You can often find more affordable options that charge based on your income at local clinics like a Planned Parenthood, or search Get Tested, a government-run website that will provide information about low-cost clinics near you.
You have the tools to manage your health AND have an incredible sex life! STIs are a part of sex—get tested, use condoms, get out there and enjoy it! Check us out on IG @hellowisp for more education on STIs, testing, sex, and more 🥰