Thankfully, Meredith Mishel from the medical nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation was here to answer our Q’s. She breaks down myths from reality so we can all be more empowered with knowledge on this super important topic.
ACT: Can you clear up for us how STDs can and can’t be spread?
MEREDITH: Almost all STDs that can be passed on through unprotected vaginal sex can also be passed on through unprotected oral and anal sex. This includes genital herpes, genital warts (caused by HPV), gonorrhea, hepatitis B, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. The possibility of contracting an STD from oral sex is generally less risky as compared to vaginal and anal sex, although any unprotected sex with someone who has HIV or an STD carries some risk.
Unprotected anal sex is riskier than oral or vaginal sex. Male latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly–meaning EVERY time, and from start to finish–are highly effective in preventing the spread of HIV. They also reduce the risk of many other STDs. Condoms are also the only method that protects sexually active people from both STDs and pregnancy.
ACT: What are some myths you’ve heard about contracting STDs?
MEREDITH: The most common myth about STDs is that you would know if you had one – that you could see it or just tell by looking or that you would have symptoms.
The truth is that the only way to know if you or anyone else has an STD is to get tested. You can’t always tell by the way someone “looks.” Even more to the point: STDs, including HIV, often have NO symptoms. Zero. That’s right. So, many people who are infected don’t even know it! Want to know for sure? Then Get Yourself—and Your Partner—Tested (GYT). Knowledge is power! Know yourself. Know your status.
Another common myth is that only “some kinds of people” get STDs. It could never happen to ME.
In reality, STDs are VERY common. 1 in 2 young people having sex will get an STD by age 25, and most won’t know it. And it only takes one sexual experience to get one. STDs don’t discriminate. And they don’t define who you are.
Other common STD-related myths include: it will hurt; everyone will know; if I use birth control, I don’t need to worry about STDs; STD testing is for cheaters/players; if he pulls out, I won’t get an STD;if I get an STD, there is nothing I can do about it; if I needed to get tested, my doctor would test me; sex in a hot tub will prevent getting an STD; oral sex and anal sex are safe sex.
A great feature to refer out to here is our 10 most outrageous sex myths.
ACT: Here’s something that sometimes causes confusion: What’s the difference between an STD and an STI?
MEREDITH: STDs and STIs are the same thing – the only difference is the term. The D is for DISEASE and the I is for INFECTION. Some public health experts and organizations use disease and some use infection but they are the same thing – absolutely no difference.
ACT: How often and under what circumstances do doctors recommend a person get tested for STDs?
MEREDITH: If you are sexually active, it’s important to get tested for STDs once a year and/or every time you start a new relationship.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people 13-64 should be tested at least once a year for HIV.
It’s important to remember that STDs are not like allergies; you can’t do a massive test for all the major ones out there. STD tests are specific to each infection. You and your health care provider will decide which STDs you should be tested for.
But most importantly, you need to speak up and ask to get tested. You can’t assume that you have been tested for STDs if you have had blood taken, given a urine sample, or (for women) had a pelvic exam or pap test. If you want to know, ASK to be tested.
Be honest and open with your health care provider about your sexual history. They are there to help you, not to judge you. The doc will help you make important decisions about test(s) you may need. Certain STDs are so common that your health care provider may suggest that you get tested regularly for them.
ACT: If a person wants to get tested, what is a great first step to take?
MEREDITH: Okay, so you’ve decided to get tested. Now what? The type of test—or tests—you need can vary depending on your age, sex, sexual history, and which STD you’re getting tested for. Remember, there is no single test that can screen for all STDs. To find a testing center near you check out GYTNOW.org.
Find an STD testing center near you to get all of the info out in the open.
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