This month we’re delving into an incredibly important topic: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In our ongoing commitment to provide valuable health information and foster open conversations about topics that impact our well-being, we are thrilled to present a special conversation with our Nurse Practitioner, Laura Kennedy.
What are the Most Common STDs Among Young Adults, and How Do They Impact Our Health?
The most common STDs among young adults are chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, genital warts, syphilis, and herpes. If left untreated, each of these can potentially have a profound effect on one’s health such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, increased risk for certain cancers, pregnancy complications, and/or leave one at an increased risk for HIV and or hepatitis.
What Does ‘Safe Sex’ Really Mean, and How Can We Practice It Effectively?
Safe sex, also more recently known as “safer sex,” means proactively using methods to protect oneself against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. The best way to practice safer sex is to use a condom with every act of intercourse or with anything that could pass any bodily fluid.
Are There STD Symptoms We Might Not Realize or Overlook? How Do We Recognize Them?
Often there are symptoms that go unrecognized, which could increase the risk of complications, as well as increase the risk of transmission among partners. Most females, and half of all men, are asymptomatic when infected with chlamydia. Symptoms that often are overlooked include vaginal and/or urethral discharge, pelvic pain, burning with urination, genital/anal ulcers, irregular menses, and an abnormal rash.
What’s the Process for Getting Tested for STDs, and How Often Should Young Adults Get Tested?
The process for testing is generally very easy, but also involves honest communication with your provider, to decide which tests are the most appropriate. Depending on the test, this can be done through a genital swab, urine test, blood draw, oral swab, or a blister/sore swab. It is best to have annual STD testing. If you have multiple partners, it is advised to have testing as often as every 3-6 months, and before any new sexual partners.
How Can We Have Conversations About STDs with Partners, Making it Comfortable and Open?
I strongly recommend talking to your partner about STDs and STD testing prior to engaging in sexual activity. It can absolutely feel uncomfortable and awkward; however, having this conversation shows that you care. There are several different ways to bring up this topic, such as, “FYI, I recently was tested for STDs, and everything was negative. Have you ever been tested?” You can even offer to get tested together!!
What Should We Do If We Suspect We’ve Been Exposed to an STD? Where Can We Seek Help?
If you think you’ve been exposed to any STD, you should schedule an appointment with your provider for testing as soon as possible. Symptoms could potentially develop in a few days, weeks, months, or not at all, so you may choose to retest 3-6 months later as well. You and your provider may decide on prophylactic treatment before your results are received.
How Can Social Stigmas Around STDs Impact Mental Health, and How Do We Cope?
Unfortunately, there are many social stigmas surrounding STDs. People are all too often judged and looked on as “damaged goods” or “dirty.” It can cause feelings of distrust, anxiety, fear, and potentially cause a person to not be completely honest with their partner regarding a previous or recent infection. One should focus on their overall health, remember they are not alone, keep the lines of communication open and honest with their partner, and realize that STDs are common and can impact anyone that is sexually active.
Can STDs Affect Fertility or Pregnancy? What Precautions Should Young Women Take?
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea have both been known to potentially cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility if left untreated. This is caused by damage/scarring to the fallopian tubes. Herpes and genital warts can also cause fertility issues due to having to abstain from intercourse until the lesions are healed/treated. An STD can possibly cause a miscarriage, preterm labor, preterm birth, premature rupture of membranes. If an infant is exposed through the birth canal during labor and or at the time of delivery, the baby could contract serious eye infection leading to possible blindness, sepsis, brain damage, deafness, and/or stillbirth. Other STDs including HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis can potentially be passed to the baby by crossing the placenta during the pregnancy. Women should be tested for STDs prior to pregnancy to ensure a healthy mom and baby. If an STD is contracted during the pregnancy, she should seek immediate treatment.
Where Can We Find Trustworthy Resources or Support for Understanding and Managing STDs?
One of the best resources for information regarding STDs and treatment are your healthcare provider. They should be willing and able to answer any questions you may have. Other resources include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other national or governmental websites.
How Accurate are Home STD Testing Kits? Are They Reliable for Young Adults?
Home tests claim to be approximately 92% accurate; however, the concern is if the person is collecting the sample properly. These are be good options for several people including those with little access to medical care, and those that are either too afraid or too embarrassed to see a healthcare provider. However, if you test positive, you will still need to follow up with a provider for treatment.