Sexual Health
Pregnancy is not the only thing to be concerned about when engaging in sexual activity. STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are common. Some can be cured. Some cannot. Many have lifelong effects. Below are some of the most common STIs.

NOTE: If you think you may have an STD or STI, see a health care provider immediately. You can also try this STD Wizard developed by the Medical Institute:

Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United States. Chlamydia is passed on during oral, vaginal or anal sex. The greater the number of sex partners, the greater the risk of infection. Because the cervix of teenage girls and young women is not fully matured, they are at particularly high risk for infection. Chlamydia can be passed from the mother to the newborn baby. The infectious person can be symptom free, have a discharge from their genitals, pain when going to the bathroom or abdominal pain when the infection causes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. PID could interfere with the ability to become pregnant. Antibiotic treatment would be prescribed for treatment.

Genital Herpes is the most common viral STI. One in six people in the US between the ages of 14-49 are infected with the genital herpes simplex virus. It is transmitted via oral, anal or vaginal sex. It can be passed from mother to newborn baby. The infected person may have no symptoms but would still be infectious. There is no cure, but symptoms may be reduced by prescribed drug treatment.

Hepatitis B is a serious viral infection which infects the liver. Because it is spread by blood or body secretions, it may be spread via oral, vaginal or anal sex or by sharing needles with an infected person. The infected person may have no symptoms, but still pass the infection on to others. Symptoms may include weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, and yellowing of the eyes or skin. Hepatitis B can be treated with drugs, but not everyone responds to treatment. Lifelong infection can cause liver damage, cancer and decreased lifespan. Family members, including babies, of the infected person should be tested for Hepatitis B and if not infected, receive Hepatitis B vaccine.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common viral STI. Most people infected have no symptoms but can still pass this infection on to others by oral, vaginal or anal sex. HPV goes away by itself for most people. Others develop genital warts or cervical cancer. Mothers can pass warts on to their newborn babies. A PAP test can detect changes in the cervix before cancer is developed. Abnormal PAP tests and cervical cancer can be treated. Young women are advised to take HPV vaccine.

Gonorrhea is the second most common STI. It is spread by oral, vaginal or anal sex. Most people who are infected have no symptoms. Symptoms include pain when going to the bathroom, discharge from the genitals, and abdominal pain in women. The latter may be a symptom of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can be a barrier to becoming pregnant. Babies can get gonorrhea from their infected mother. Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems, such as damage to your joints, heart or brain. Prescription antibiotics are used to treat gonorrhea.

Trichomoniasis is a very common STI caused by a parasite. It is spread by sexual contact and the infectious person may have no symptoms or may have a discharge from the genitals, burning on urination or painful sex. Babies can get trichomoniasis from their mothers. The baby could be born prematurely to an infected pregnant woman. Prescribed antibiotics are used to treat trichomoniasis.

Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection which infects the liver. It is spread by blood or body secretions, so it may be spread by oral, vaginal or anal sex or by sharing needles with an infected person. The infected person may pass the infection on to others unknowingly, since there may be no symptoms. Babies can get Hepatitis C during childbirth. Symptoms may include nausea, loss of appetite, weakness, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Drug treatment is available, but not always effective. Most people have Hepatitis C for life. It can cause liver damage, cancer and a decreased life span.

HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system, reducing your ability to fight off infections and cancer. If HIV is untreated, it becomes AIDS. Because it is spread by body fluids and blood, it may be spread via oral, vaginal or anal sex. When first infected, symptoms may feel like the flu, with fever, aches and tiredness. There may be no other symptoms for years, but the person is still infectious. If HIV becomes AIDs, many other cancers and infections may develop. With HIV, drugs would be prescribed to take daily to extend life. If pregnant, there are drugs to reduce your baby’s chance of getting HIV.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection you can get from having any form of sex with an infected person. You may develop a sore in your genital area or on your mouth or skin. If you don’t get treatment, the infection will progress to the secondary stage, which is associated with skin rash and mucous membrane lesions. In addition to rashes, secondary syphilis may be accompanied by fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. This stage will resolve with or without treatment, but without treatment will progress to latent and possibly late stage. Latent (hidden) stage begins when the sores and rashes have disappeared. At the late stage the disease may damage the internal organs, bones and joints. Symptoms of the late stage include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. This may be serious enough to cause death.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sexually transmitted infections? The only 100% prevention is to avoid sexual activity when you are not married, remain faithful to one uninfected partner for life, don’t shoot drugs, and don’t get body piercing or tattoos from an uncertified place. If you have already had sex, taken street drugs in your veins or had tattoos or body piercing from an uncertified place, see your doctor for STI testing.

Sex is a big deal. Know the facts. Make informed decisions. Respect yourself.

Sources: Medical Institute for Sexual Health ; Center for Disease Control