Sex is a human need although we differ in our expression and preference of it. Like any activity in life it comes with associated risks, which in this case is that of acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STD’s.)
Sexual infections can be transmitted only by direct contact between people- either of the skin in the cases of Herpes Simples Virus (HSV) and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) or of body fluids (semen, vaginal secretions, blood) in the case of all the others.
There are eight main types of STD’s, not including the less well known infections like mycoplasma and ureaplasma, which are not universally tested for. Each STD type can be made up of more subtypes. For example, there are more than 200 recognised subtypes of HPV and two forms each of HSV and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The following is a brief summary of the main diseases and their usual symptoms:
- HSV: sores, vesicles
- HPV: warts, discomfort
- Chlamydia: pain, discharge
- Gonorrhoea: pain, discharge
- Trichomonas: discharge
- HIV: fever and sore throat initially (later phases can be different)
- Syphilis: ulcer initially (later phases can be different)
- Hepatitis A, B, C: fever, nausea, abdominal pain
The STD’s are all microbes (bacteria and viruses with the exception of Trichomonas which is a protozoa) that are invisible to our naked eye. Also, the majority of people carrying an STD are without symptoms; indeed many of those carrying do not even realise themselves that they are infected. The result is that we are often forgetful or complacent about the risk and presence of STD’s in our potential partners.
Therefore, it is paramount to keep a high level of caution in being aware of these risks with all potential partners, no matter how familiar or friendly they seem. However, this is not to castigate sexual intercourse as a high risk activity to be avoided. Rather, sexual intercourse should be considered a low risk activity and enjoyed but under the auspices of ‘safe sex’- which involves taking regular sexual screening tests and ALWAYS using condoms when having sex.
Sexual screening tests are now a normal part of medical practice and are widely available at local doctor surgeries, sexual disease centres and family planning clinics. They consist of a health professional taking a history of symptoms and recent sexual contacts and practices, performing an examination and then ordering blood tests with either urine sample tests in men or vaginal sample tests in women.
Condoms form a physical barrier between the skin and body fluid of one partner from the skin and body fluid of the other thereby reducing the chances of contact and transmission. They should be used for the entire duration of any sexual contact and not just for the ejaculation phase. However, they are not perfect and unfortunately condoms can split, break or come off without warning. Therefore, it is important to check the condom each time after sex. If the condoms integrity is compromised, it is important to remember the potential possibility of pregnancy alongside that of disease transmission and consult a doctor.