It’s another one of those subjects that we don’t discuss in polite company but you can’t learn without communicating. So, let’s communicate about sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.
What are STIs?
STIs are a variety of infections that can be passed on to partners through intimate sexual contact. In fact, the term “sexually transmitted infections” or STIs is starting to be used instead of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).
How many STIs are there?
A large number of infections can be transmitted through sexual genital contact. However, seven are of major concern:
- Genital herpes
- HIV (the virus that causes AIDS)
- Human papillomavirus (HPV, a virus that can lead to cancer)
- Lymphogranuloma venereum (an infection of the lymph nodes)
What is the risk of getting an STI?
Every sexually active man is theoretically at risk of getting an STI, but the specific risks vary with your partner, the disease and your use of protective strategies. Some STIs, such as HPV, are very common; in fact, there are many different types of HPV and it is estimated that 75% of sexually active people will have at least one HPV infection during their lifetime. Other STIs are less common.
What are the symptoms of STIs?
The symptoms vary depending on the type of infection. In general, men should see a doctor if they experience:
- Unusual discharge from the penis
- Burning or itching anywhere on or near the penis
- A burning sensation while urinating
- Pain or swelling in the testicles
- Small warts or other sores on the penis, scrotum, thighs, anus, rectum or in their urethra
If you have multiple partners, it’s a good idea to have regular check-ups even if you don’t have any symptoms.
Are there STIs with no symptoms?
Yes. Unfortunately, many people with an STI have no symptoms, which means that they are unaware they even have an infection. For instance, more than 50% of men infected with chlamydia show no signs of disease, and some men with gonorrhea or HPV have no symptoms. Genital herpes cycles through phases during which there are no symptoms but the infection can still be passed on to partners. Syphilis often has symptoms, but they can be mistaken for other medical conditions such as a rash or the flu.
How effective are condoms in preventing STIs?
Condoms are one of the best ways to protect yourself or a partner against getting an STI. When used correctly, condoms made of either latex or polyurethane are highly effective in preventing transmission of STIs. However, even with condom use, there is still a small risk of infection.
Make sure you use a condom that fits correctly: one that is too tight can break during use, while one that is too loose can slip off. Either of these will decrease the condom’s protective effect. Condoms also need to be used every time you are intimate with a partner. Sheepskin and novelty condoms are not as effective as other types of condoms in protecting against STIs.
Want more information and support? Search “STI” in Find Support for organizations in your area.