Last Taboo’s Brigette Bard, takes your questions on sexually transmitted infections (and puts some myths to rest in the process).
1. Can I get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from oral sex?
Yes and it’s pretty common – especially for gonorrhoea, genital herpes and syphilis. You can also get chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis A B & C and genital warts through oral sex, although these are less common and carry a lower risk.
To help prevent this, you or your partner can wear a condom (there are some nice flavoured ones around) or for oral sex involving the anus or female genitals you can get dental dams which are a square of very thin plastic you put over the area where your mouth is going. They also come in a variety of flavours.
2. Could I catch an STI from anal?
Penetrative anal sex whether you’re gay or straight carries a higher risk of STI’s because the tissues inside your anus are thinner and they don’t self-lubricate so can be damaged more easily.
There is a much higher risk from HIV, gonorrhoea, syphilis, hepatitis B, herpes and HPV.
It’s even more important to use condoms if you don’t know each other’s sexual health status and always use water based lubricants as it will help stop tissue damage and prevent condom breakage.
3. What about mutual masturbation?
It depends what you are mutually masturbating with. If you’re using your hands there is not really any risk, although there is a very low risk from using your hands on someone else and then yourself – the same with sharing sex toys.
Always wash them before. But genital to genital masturbation can leave you exposed to things like herpes, HPV (genital warts), pubic lice (crabs) and syphilis.
4. And kissing – surely that’s safe?
You can’t get an STI, but you can pass on or get herpes (a cold sore) so avoid kissing if either of you has one.
5. Just in case the the myth IS true – can I get an STI from a toilet seat?
STI’s can’t really live outside of your body for very long so there’s not any risk – unless you’re having unprotected sex on said toilet seat!
6. Which STIs are treatable and which are with you for life?
Many STI’s (bacterial infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis) are treatable with antibiotics (although ‘super’ antibiotic resistant strains are increasing).
HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and herpes (and sometimes HPV) are with you for life but there are treatments that keep them manageable. But you have to know you have an infection to get treated.
7. Can you die from an STI?
HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C can all be fatal if left untreated. They eventually cause irreparable damage to your immune system/liver, however there are really effective treatments available to prevent this damage.
There are very often no symptoms, so it is really important to get tested if you have any doubts and start treatments to protect yourself; making sure you don’t pass it on to anyone else.
8. Can STIs make you infertile?
Yes, especially in women. The most common infection to cause infertility is chlamydia because over time it causes the fallopian tubes to irreparably scar and block the release of eggs.
Chlamydia usually doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms, so testing is really important. Syphilis and gonorrhoea can also adversely impact fertility.
9. Can you pass STIs on to your children?
Through normal contact it is very unlikely you can pass an STI on to your children, but herpes can be spread through kissing.
Also hepatitis B and HIV can be transmitted to an unborn child during pregnancy and there is a strong likelihood of an unborn baby contracting syphilis from the mother, especially during birth if there are any sores
10. How do you know if you’ve got an STI?
Some STI’s have symptoms and some do not. It’s worth getting checked at a sexual health clinic regularly, if you have unprotected sex with someone whose sexual health you don’t know, especially if it’s with more than one person as this increases your risk.
If you have any lumps, bumps, itching, pain, discharge etc from your genitals – go and get checked at your local clinic.
That way you can get any treatments you may need and avoid passing it on to someone else.
11. How often should you get a STI check?
It really depends. If you’re starting a new relationship with someone it is a good idea for you both to go and have an STI check to make sure you’re all clear – remember things like HIV, hepatitis B & C and syphilis can take up to three months to get an accurate test result.
If you’re single and sexually active, especially if you’re having sex unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, I would advise you have a regular STI check – as often as every three months.
12. What does the STI check involve for men and women?
For a full STI screen the process is quite straight forward. A nurse will ask you a series of questions about the sort of sex you have and then take some blood samples to test for HIV and hepatitis.
You will also be asked to take one or more swabs of the inside of your genitals (for both men and women) and provide a urine sample.
The nurse might also check your throat. They’ll probably send you away with some free condoms as well! It’s nothing to be worried about – these people have heard everything you can think of and won’t make you feel embarrassed.
Most people feel relieved after visiting a sexual health clinic. Results are usually provided over the phone or via text message within a week and if anything shows up you’ll be asked to go back for a follow-up appointment.
There are loads of options for taking STI tests though, and if you really are worried but don’t want to see a doctor or nurse, you can self-test yourself at home for HIV, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, syphilis and HIV.
You can get these via the NHS’s Freedoms Shop freedoms-shop.com/testing-kits.
This is an excerpt of a feature written by Brigette for The Daily Star. Read the full article here.