Entering the world of sexuality and sexual health as a young woman comes with a lot of learning, and many times it can be hard to learn if no one is comfortable teaching on these topics. That’s what we’re here for! Other adults in your life may not be comfortable talking about these things or have the knowledge needed to educate you, and that’s okay.
At OGA, we want to empower you with the knowledge you need to make healthy decisions for your life and body, which is why we wanted to give you an overview of sexually transmitted diseases. It’s one of those topics that most people don’t feel comfortable discussing, so we’re making it easy for you to learn without the discomfort. If you have questions though, don’t hesitate to ask us during your appointment! Although these topics may be uncomfortable for you to discuss, they aren’t uncomfortable for us, and we’d gladly discuss more in detail with you if that would help you.
What are Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), also referred to by medical professionals as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), affect over 9 million women in the United States every year (with half of these women being between the age of 15-24 years old). Crazy, right? It doesn’t seem like many women are affected by them because STDs aren’t exactly something people advertise that they have. But the truth is that they are very common.
Although men and women can both get STDs, women typically have more serious health problems that arise as a result of them, including infertility, making it very important for a woman to see her doctor if she thinks she may have one. Some STDs can be cured, but some cannot and will require medicine to manage symptoms.
STDs pass from person to person through sexual contact (and in rarer cases, nonsexual contact) that results in exposure to bodily fluids such as vaginal fluids, semen, or blood. Because STDs don’t always cause symptoms, they can be passed from person to person unknowingly.
Causes of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases can be caused by parasites. Bacteria, or viruses that have entered your body from exposure to bodily fluids. This can happen a number of ways, including but not limited to:
- Having sexual encounters with multiple partners
- Having unprotected sex or sexual encounters with someone who has an STD (whether known or unknown)
- Forced sexual activities
- Genitals touching without sex
- Injecting drugs using shared or non-sterilized needles
- An infected mother passing an STD to her child during pregnancy or delivery (this is why pregnant women should be screened ahead of time)
How to Prevent STDs
We strongly recommend that if you are under the age of 25, you get a yearly STD screening. To reduce or avoid the risk of getting an STD, you can do the following:
- Abstain from sex and sexual encounters, as well as avoiding situations you would come into contact with a shared or non-sterilized needle.
- Stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner
- Wait to have sex or a sexual encounter with a partner until you’ve both been tested for STDs
- Get all of your vaccinations before sex or sexual encounters to prevent health issues like HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.
- Don’t douche, as this can remove some of the healthy bacteria in your vagina that protects you from infection.
- Use protection (condoms, dental dams, etc) correctly and consistently. If you need help knowing how to do so, we can easily teach you.
How to Know if You Have an STD
You may not know you have an STD until you show symptoms, have health complications or have a partner that is diagnosed. Depending on the organism that has infected your body, it may take days to years after exposure before you have any symptoms.
Symptoms to look out for and discuss with your doctor if you have them include:
- Bumps or sores on your genitals, or your mouth or rectal area
- Burning or painful urination
- Genital itching
- Odd-smelling or unusual discharge from your vagina
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- Pain or discomfort with sex
- Sore or swollen lymph nodes in your groin
- Pain in your lower abdomen
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Unexplained rashes
- Fever accompanying any of the above symptoms
What to Do if You Think You Have an STD
If you are a sexually active woman, it’s important to be aware of STDs and to take precautions against them. If you think you may have already contracted an STD, schedule an appointment with us! We can talk you through things and test you if we think it’s necessary. If you end up having a positive result for an STD, we can discuss the next steps with you to resolve it.