The other day I went to see my GP to get another script for my contraceptive pill. She asked if I had ever had a sexual health check–up before. I have had plenty of pap smears, so I said "yes".
What I found out was that my regular pap smear didn’t check for everything. Sure they check for the presence of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) but not for all the other possible sexually transmitted infections.
I decided to get a sexual health check–up even though I didn’t have any symptoms and my boyfriend and I had been together for a while now. My boyfriend and I have had other sexual partners but that was a long time ago.
My test results came back and it turns out I have chlamydia. Apparently you can have it and have no symptoms. Luckily, this infection is curable with a course of antibiotics, but what I didn’t realise is that this infection, if left untreated, can cause infertility! I was so shocked I told all my friends to go and get a check-up.
What does ‘safe sex’ mean to you?
Safe sex…it’s probably not the first time you’ve heard the phrase, but what does it mean to you? Maybe you or your partner is on the contraceptive pill, you use condoms sometimes (or all the time) or maybe you just feel that ‘she’ll be right, it won’t happen to me’.
“Safe sex means caring for both your own health and the health of your partner. Being safe protects you from getting or passing on sexually transmissible infections (STIs) as well as an unplanned pregnancy”1.
Whilst the contraceptive pill is an effective method of birth control it does not prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI). Barrier contraceptives such as condoms are an effective method for preventing both pregnancies and most STIs.
There are many types of STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital warts/herpes, Hepatitis B, and HIV/AIDS. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are classified as bacterial infections and are the most common STIs. Both are preventable with the correct use of condoms.
Blood Born infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis are less common, however they are very significant infections. These can also be prevented with the correct use of condoms.
Viral STIs such as genital warts and genital herpes can be very symptomatic (blisters, sores and lumps) and aren’t always avoidable with the use of condoms. These types of infections can lie outside of the areas protected by a condom for both men and women. They are caused by skin to skin contact and can occur inside or around the vagina or anus, on the penis and pubic area.
There are numerous symptoms of STIs, many of which are unnoticeable (e.g. back pain as a symptom of chlamydia).
“Girls may notice:
- itching, sores, blisters or lumps inside and/or around the vagina or anus
- pain low in the stomach or back
- pain during sex
- unusually heavy periods, bleeding between periods, or bleeding after sex
- unusual vaginal discharge
- pain/burning when passing urine and/or frequent urge to pass urine
- rectal pain/discharge.
Guys may notice:
- discharge from the penis
- sores, blisters or lumps on the penis, pubic area or around the anus
- pain/burning while passing urine and/or frequent urge to pass urine
- pain in the scrotum
- rectal pain/discharge
In many cases barrier contraception/condoms are the most effective method to avoid these infections. While some STIs are curable many are not and require a life time of maintenance and/or treatment such as genital herpes and HIV/AIDs.
Protecting yourself and your partner
If you are sexually active, get a sexual health check at your doctor, or local sexual health or family planning clinic. A sexual health check may involve:
- Questions about: your sexual orientation (eg straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender), number of sexual partners, sexual practices, symptoms etc; and
- An examination that may include taking swabs, taking urine samples and a blood test.
Where to find more information
Clinic 87 Sunshine Coast
Wide Bay Sexual Health and HIV Service
Tel: (07) 5470 5244
This article is compiled by Rebecca Tretheway, in partnership between Student Wellbeing and PUB 352 Public Health Project for the USC Health and Wellbeing Project.