I hear a lot of misinformation about STIs pretty constantly. People have many misconceptions about STIs, how they are transmitted, and even exactly what they are and how they are spread. There is also still a lot of stigma that if you have an STI, you must be a slut. Well, that’s not the case. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be broken up into 3 categories.
Whether you identify as heterosexual, or anything else, you are at risk of contracting an STI. No STI is limited to a group of people, and actually some, are not only sexually transmitted. Before you get to scared, let me just say all STIs are treatable or manageable. It is also important to note that many people do not have any symptoms. The only way to know for sure if you are STI free, is to get tested for each STI. Also, it is much better to go to anonyms clinics to get tested, as going to your family doctor may affect your insurances due to your family doctor being legally required to go through OHIP (Only applies to Canada. Not sure about anywhere else).
Let’s start with the viral infections.
Molluscum Contagiosum: Molluscum is actually a skin infection which can be transmitted sexually through motion and friction, even if the person who has Molluscum is not showing any symptoms. Molluscum causes hard, painful bumps on the surface of your skin. You can contract Molluscum through anytime type of friction (bodies rubbing, fingering, dry humping etc…), it can also be transmitted from change room benches, pools, toilet seats, and any other public surfaces where bare skin contact occurs. There is known medication to treat Molluscum, affects people of all ages, and cannot be cured, but managed.
Treatment: Molluscum can go away on its own after about 6 months. However, Molluscum can be very painful, and the only known treatment requires freezing the bumps with liquid nitrogen and scraped off. It is like the treatment for warts.
Herpes: Herpes is also a skin infection which is mostly transmitted through sexual activity. Herpes has 2 different types, Herpes Simplex 1, develops around the mouth which can present itself as blisters, or cold soars around the mouth. Having oral sex, or rimming (licking a person’s butthole), can transmit the virus to a person’s genitals. Herpes on a person’s genitals is the second type and called Herpes Simplex 2. Herpes Simplex 2 creates soars around the genitals and anus area. Herpes cannot be cured, but is manageable with medication. Herpes spreads through skin to skin contact, and is actually more contagious 24 hours before a breakout. Basically, someone who has Herpes Simplex 1 can scratch their mouth, then go open a door, the next person to come into contact with the door, can contract Herpes. It would have to be fairly soon after as the virus would die after a few minutes. But, better to wash your hands in case.
Treatment: It is important to note that many people with Herpes may never have an outbreak. So, the best way to know, is to get tested. Previously, the only way to test was by doing a swab test, which unless you were having an outbreak, would pretty much come back negative. However, there is a new blood test which you can do. This test is not covered by OHIP, and there is only a specific lab which will do it.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): HPV actually has more than 100 different strains, and about 40 of them can affect the genital area (penis, vagina/vulva), and anal (butt) area. Most of the time HPV clears up on its own over time. However, the more aggressive types of HPV can change cells in the genital areas of the body and cause various types of cancer such as: Penial cancer, cervical cancer, anal cancer, cancer of the vulva, and throat cancer. HPV typically presents itself as warts or little bumps a person’s genital areas or around the mouth, and can also be transmitted via skin to skin contact.
Treatment: Most of the HPV infections clear up on its own. However, you should always get tested. Pap tests are a great way for people who have vulvas/vaginas to get tested. Unfortunately, other than a Pap there is no way to test for HPV. A clinician can treat the warts using a laser, or liquid nitrogen as well. The HPV vaccine is also a way of prevention.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV/AIDS): HIV is still the big one I hear a lot of stereotypes. HIV is still known as the “gay disease”, but anyone can contract HIV regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, etc… HIV is a viral infection that, to put it simply, essentially eats away at your immune system. HIV is transmitted through bodily fluids. Now, it is important to remember, that there are many fluids HIV cannot be contracted from. The bodily fluids which you can contract HIV from are: Blood, semen (cum), pre-ejaculate (pre-cum), vaginal fluid (pre-cum from a vagina or vulva), and anal mucus (the lubricant we all have in our butts). You can decrease your risk of contracting HIV by using protection when having sex. Do not rely on your partner to tell you whether or not they have an STI or for your partner to bring the protection. Safe sex and being safe if everyone’s responsibility. It is also not advised to share sex toys, unless a male condom (external condom) is placed on them, or they are washed prior to each use. You can also get HIV from sharing needles due to transmission via blood. A very common thing I hear is you can contract HIV from kissing. Saliva does contain the HIV virus, but cannot thrive in saliva. You would need to drink 18 gallons of an HIV positive person’s saliva for a chance to contract the virus. That’s a lot of spit swapping, and not really possible as no one can produce that much saliva at once. HIV becomes AIDS when a person’s CD4 cell count becomes high enough, and an AIDS related illness occurs. Interesting enough, no one actually dies from AIDS, but actually from AIDS related illnesses. You can test for HIV by getting an HIV test. There are 2 types of tests, there is an express test which is basically a prick in the finger (similar to a diabetes test), and you will get a negative or positive in about 2 minutes. There is also the blood test which can be done at a clinic and takes about 2 weeks to get the results.
Treatment: HIV/AIDS is not curable, but manageable with medication. There are a variety of different types of medications. The type of medication prescribed depends on various factors and is typically decided by the doctor for a trial basis to see how the medication interacts with your body. HIV medication has progressed to the point where now, a person living with HIV could actually get a non-detectable status, which essentially means the virus is almost dormant in your system, allowing people to even come of their medication for up to 6 months sometimes and still sometimes be undetectable. Someone living with HIV could live a completely normal, and long life. There are also 2 prevention medications, not available everywhere, and not easily accessible, but they exist. PREP, stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It is essentially a medication that is taken before you have sex with an HIV positive person. This medication is good for people who have partners who are HIV positive and do not want to stigmatize them or make them feel judged for living with HIV. PEP stands for post exposure prophylaxis. With PEP, someone who believes they may have been exposed to HIV can get one month of treatment, as a preventative measure in contracting the virus. PEP essentially flushes out the system to remove the virus from the body. PEP is not readily available to anyone, and the questions which one will be asked to potentially be put on PEP have been describes and probing, and very invasive. Remember people, HIV is not a death sentence, people who are HIV positive, should not be stigmatized or judged.
Hepatitis B: Hep B is an STI which affects the liver. Someone who has Hep B, the virus can be found, and contracted from their bodily fluids such as: semen (cum), blood, and vaginal fluid (female cum). You can contract Hep B through unprotected sex, oral or penetrative.
Treatment: If you contract Hep B, you will need to go for many different blood tests to test you liver function. For most people who contract Hep B will clear the virus in about 6 months, and your body would not allow you to get it again because it produces antibodies and fights off the infection should one come in contact with the virus again. A person who has contracted Hep B will need to have their liver function monitored frequently. Should the virus not clear liver functions would still need to be monitored constantly, there is also risk, due to a decreasing liver function, that the induvial may contract liver cancer and other liver related complications. There are however medications that can help keep liver functions normal.
As you have seen, STIs are not death sentences. They are scary, and can have some pretty negative, and serious side effects. It is important for us to remember that anyone can contract an STI regardless of how often you have sex. We are all sexual beings, so let’s not shame people for doing what comes naturally, and remember that you do not necessarily need to have sex to contract an STI. Next week, I will touching on Bacterial STI infections. Stay tuned!
Source: Planned Parenthood Toronto