If these acronyms make you cringe or your head spin, you’re not the only one! Confusion among patients regarding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infections (STIs) are the rule, rather than the exception. But, it is possible to better understand your risk and how to prevent STDs.
One of the many important conversations you will have with your gynecologist will be about “safe sex.” Confusion often begins with an open ended question: “Are you sexually active?” A lot of women think this means vaginal intercourse with penetration, when in reality any sexual contact (including oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse, as well as genital-genital contact without penetration) can place you at risk for STDs.
Who is at risk? Anyone who has sexual contact with one or more partners has a risk of contracting an STD. Having a higher number of partners and having unprotected sex (no barrier contraception) increases that risk.
How do you know if you have an STD? Although many STDs can cause symptoms like pain, ulcers, or discharge, it is more common for an STD infection to be asymptomatic. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control recommends screening at regular intervals. Women under the age of 25 are offered annual gonorrhea and chlamydia testing. Screening for human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer with pap smears is done at regular intervals, every 1-3 years. All women should be offered an HIV blood test yearly. Testing for Hepatitis B & C, Syphilis, Trichomonas, and Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) are readily available but typically reserved for patients with symptoms or at high risk.
Talk with your provider at your next annual exam, or schedule an office visit to find out more!