STDs or sexually transmitted diseases comprise of a group of infections that is transmitted from one person is to another by intimate contact. Even though sexual contact remains the most common way of transmission of this group of diseases and because of which they are known as STDs, they can even be transmitted through non-sexual but close contact with the infected person. The private nature of the transmission process and resulting symptoms from the infection further lead to STDs being shrouded in myths and misconceptions. Here is a brief pointer on the actual ways you can get STD and a debunking of myths associated with it.
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The most common way that you can get infected with STD is through unprotected sex. Almost all the common sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, syphilis, Chlamydia, herpes and trichomoniasis are transmitted through sexual intercourse. While most of them exhibit symptoms like sores, blisters in the genital area or oozing from the genitals, there are a few like Chlamydia which do not exhibit symptoms in the early stages. It is estimated that as many as 70-75% of women infected with Chlamydia continue to remain asymptomatic while the relevant figures in case of men may be around 50%. However this does not make STDs like Chlamydia any less dangerous since long. Even STDs like gonorrhea which according to an estimate provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the second most commonly reported notifiable disease in the country, may be asymptomatic in the early stages. As much as 20% of the infections among men and 30 to 40% of those among women may display no symptoms but if left untreated can go on to develop into major even potentially life-threatening complications for the infected people. However the good news is that they are completely curable once tested and treatment is started.
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Exchange of bodily fluids
There are some sexually transmitted diseases which are transmitted through bodily fluids like semen and vaginal fluid during a sexual intercourse besides other modes like infected blood. This group of STDs include some of the most dangerous diseases since a complete cure is difficult. The best known of these is AIDS which develops as a result of being infected with HIV. Even though AIDS treatment is now far more developed than it was a decade back with patients having a normal life expectancy with right combination of treatment, there is still no definite cure. Another STD which is potentially life-threatening is Hepatitis-B which like HIV can pass through unprotected sex among other modes of transmission like infected blood.
However not all STDs are transmitted through sexual intercourse. Sometimes engaging in genital contact may be enough for transmission of the infection even if there is no full penetration as in vaginal intercourse. This is how oral sex and anal sex become other modes of transmission of STDs even though there is no vaginal sexual intercourse taking place. Genital herpes and genital warts are kinds of STDs which can be transmitted through genital contact.
Sometimes however intimate contact which may not be genital in nature can also lead to spreading of an STD from an infected to a healthy person. This is because STDs like herpes can spread from skin contact with sores or blisters on the infected area. STDs which have been left untreated for a long while can also spread to other organs like the throat, eyes, liver, lungs, joints and even the heart. In the first two cases at least, there may be symptoms like burning or irritation of the eyes or blisters in the throat. Thus if your broken skin or tissue comes in contact with either of these infected areas, you stand a chance to pick up the infection as well.
Now that various ways of transmission of STDs has been dealt with, it is time to go over the myths.
- One of the most dangerous myths surrounding the transmission of STD is that you can’t get it if you avoid vaginal penetrative sex but indulge in oral or anal sex. The truth is that the viruses and bacteria that cause STD can enter from the infected to the healthy body through tiny cuts and tears in the mouth or the anus. This is why engaging in oral or anal sex also puts you at risk of contracting an STD.
- Yet another myth associated with STDs is that you can’t get it if you have protected sex. The truth is that only a latex condom offers you some degree of protection from being infected with an STD. other methods of ‘protection’ like spermicides, diaphragms and contraceptive pills can only protect you from a pregnancy and not a sexually transmitted infection. In fact even a condom can fall short of offering complete protection from STDs like genital warts or herpes where skin to skin contact with the infected area is enough to spread the infection to the healthy partner.
- Many people mistakenly believe that if you don’t have sexual contact, you cannot contract STD. the truth is that even intimate actions like engaging in open-mouth kissing or ‘French kissing’ can expose you to the infection. This is because in STDs like oral herpes, the infected person might have sores or blisters in the mouth which can then be passed onto you, especially if you happen to have broken skin or tissues in the mouth.
- One of the most damaging myths that you need to watch out for is that only ‘fast’ girls and guys get STDs. Even the most sincere, safe and honest-looking partner can be infected with an STD or worse even be unaware that he/she is carrying an infection. This is because many STDs remain asymptomatic for several months before they finally break out. In the US alone, around nineteen million new infections are being diagnosed every year. Not everyone in this vast number can be a player which means that you definitely need to be aware of your partner’s STD status before you get intimate with him/her.
- Finally don’t go the other extreme and believe that two condoms are better than one. Not only is this going to be highly uncomfortable but condom makers warn that the two condoms will rub against each other during sex and either break or slip off, thus exposing both partners to a possible STD infection.