opinion

COLUMN: Ten misconceptions about STDs



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Spring is here and so is Sexually Transmitted Diseases Awareness Month. To celebrate, here are 10 common misconceptions about STDs.

1. STDs aren’t that common.

STD rates are on the rise in the U.S. One in two sexually active people will contract an STI by the time they reach 25. Human papillomavirus is so common that every sexually active person will get HPV at some point if they aren’t vaccinated.

2. If they don’t cause symptoms, then STDs aren’t a problem.

Some STDs, such as chlamydia, can appear asymptomatic, meaning that they have no symptoms. But just because you don’t notice them doesn’t mean they don’t cause harm. Asymptomatic STDs can still be transmitted to other people, and STDs can also cause problems that aren’t immediately obvious, such as infertility.

3. Most people don’t need to get tested for STDs.

Not all STDs show symptoms, so it’s important to get tested. 15-25 year olds account for over half of all new STD cases each year, but a 2016 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that only about 12 percent were tested for STIs in the last year. STD testing is readily available in Bloomington. The IU Health Center and Planned Parenthood provide fast and confidential STD testing. The Futures Family Planning Clinic, run by the Monroe County Department of Health, also offers STD testing on a sliding scale and accepts Medicaid and insurance.

4. “Only people that have a lot of sex get STDs.” “I’m safe if I only have one partner.”

It only takes one person to transmit an STD, so it doesn’t matter if you’ve only had sex once or 1,000 times. STDs can be transmitted through unprotected sex of all kinds, as well as genital contact and shared sex toys.

5. I can’t get an STD if I’m not having intercourse.

STDs can be transmitted in a number of ways aside from sexual intercourse, like oral sex or sharing sex toys. STDs can also be transmitted through needle sharing, including nonsterile tattoo needles. There are also risks of infection if someone puts their fingers or hand inside the vagina or anus, as this can cause tears that increase transmission risk.

6. HIV is the only STD that I need to be worried about.

STDs outside of human immunodeficiency virus can also have devastating consequences. For example, HPV can cause multiple forms of cancer if left untreated, but there is an HPV vaccination available. Syphilis can lead to brain damage and birth defects. Many other STDs cause infertility and other problems.

7. If I wash myself after sex, I’ll be fine.

Some think that douching or flushing the vagina with water, antiseptic or soap is hygenic and prevents infection, but it can actually increase your risk of STD infection because it alters the microbes in the vagina. It’s also associated with increased risk of cervical cancer, complications in pregnancy and other health issues.

8. All STDs are treatable and can be cured.

Some STDs are easy to treat with things like a course of antibiotics, especially they are caught in the early stages. But STDs caused by viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics. Moreover, some STDs don’t have cures, such as HIV, hepatitis B, herpes and HPV. Overall, prevention is better than treatment.

9. Getting an STD is shameful.

The truth is that most Americans will get an STD at some point in their lives, but that doesn’t mean that getting one the end of the world. We have to remind ourselves that STDs are illnesses, like the flu or a cold. Getting an STD test doesn’t mean that others will judge you — it just means you’re making thoughtful choices about your health. It shouldn’t be so difficult to talk about STDs with others. It’s a crucial part of a healthy relationship.

10. STD prevention isn’t sexy.

There are many, many reasons to use a condom and practice safe sex. It’s also an opportunity to talk about what partners are comfortable with and help with consent. Using a condom won’t “ruin the mood,”  but getting an STD will.

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