Can you catch HIV from a toilet seat? Can you take those old antibiotics to clear up a suspicious genital rash? How safe are condoms anyway? There’s a lot of bad information out there and your health may be at risk.
That’s why we’ve gathered some of the most persistent myths about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and put them straight so you know where you stand. Or sit. Or lie. Whichever position you prefer, really . . .
MYTH: Only promiscuous people catch STDs/STIs
Nope. You might pick up something unpleasant your very first time if you’re unlucky. Nobody can know the entire sexual history of a partner (and asking can be a turn off, even on the third date) so it can sometimes be a matter of pure chance whether you get an STD.
The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2021 that 20% of US citizens have had an STI. In the same year, the World Health Organization reported that more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections are acquired every day worldwide, most of which are asymptomatic.
MYTH: Condoms always protect against STDs/STIs
Condoms greatly reduce the risk, but not 100%. Remember that they don’t always cover the entire area that may be infected. Some STIs such as herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV) or genital ulcer diseases like syphilis and chancroid are spread via skin-to-skin contact. Also, condoms occasionally rip (be careful with those long nails when in a hurry!) or fall off in the heat of the moment. Nevertheless, you’re safer with one than without.
MYTH: You can tell if someone has an STI
Not even doctors often can spot an STI if there are no symptoms. That’s why tests exist. The truth is that some STIs are symptomless but can still spread infection to other partners even if you feel totally fine. Symptoms of other STI’s may take days, weeks or longer to appear, so it makes sense to get a test after (or even before) unprotected sex with a new partner.
MYTH: You can only have one STI at a time
Sorry, but it’s entirely possible to have several at the same time. Indeed, infection with an STI increases the risk of a co-infection with HIV.
MYTH: My STI will clear up on its own
Not likely – even if you eat broccoli. Moreover, delaying treatment – even of a symptomless infection – could cause long-term problems to your health and fertility, not to mention you’ll continue passing it on to others. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea, for example, can both lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) if not treated, leading to long-term pelvic pain, blocked Fallopian tubes and ectopic pregnancy. Human papillomavirus (HPV) infections may be symptomless and clear up within two years, but some strands of HPV may lead to cervical or other cancers. Probably safer to get checked, eh?
MYTH: Oral or anal sex do not cause STI’s
Viruses or bacteria that cause STI’s enter the body through tiny cuts or tears in the mouth and anus, as well as the genitals, so any unprotected oral, anal or vaginal contact can result in a sexually transmitted infection. Other STDs such as herpes or genital warts spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area or sore. Best advice: use a condom (or a dental dam for oral sex).
MYTH: You can’t get the same STI twice
Of course you can, even if you’ve been treated for previous infections like chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Some other STDs such as herpes and HIV are life-long and can be managed with medicine.
MYTH: All STIs are curable
Hmm. STI’s caused by bacterial infections can generally be easily treated and cured. Viral infections herpes simplex virus (HSV), human papilloma virus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can only be managed rather than cured.
MYTH: You can catch an STI from a toilet seat
STI’s die outside the warm and cosy environment of the body, so a toilet seat is not a good home from home. You’ll be fine. But still wash your hands, yeah?
MYTH: Syphilis is a historical disease
A Public Health England report recently noted a ten-fold increase in syphilis cases from 2010 to 2019, particularly among UK heterosexual women. In the USA, the CDC noted 133,945 cases of all-stage syphilis reported in 2020, increasing year on year since 2001. So, no . . . Syphilis is very much still with us.
MYTH: I’m on the pill so I’m safe
A bit like saying you’re safe from being hit by a car because you’ve taken some Aspirin. Birth control pills are intended to stop births, not STIs.
MYTH: I’ll take some antibiotics and I’ll be fine
Not all STIs can be treated with antibiotics, for example: HIV and genital herpes. Also, you shouldn’t really have spare antibiotics lying around the house; they should have been taken in full by whomever they were prescribed for. Just saying.
MYTH: Mosquitos can transmit HIV
No. Just no.
MYTH: A good wash will prevent STI’s
Neither washing the exterior skin nor flushing the vagina (douching) can prevent STDs. Moreover, douching does not prevent pregnancy, it alters vaginal flora and may even lead to cases of bacterial vaginosis (BV), ectopic pregnancy, birth problems, cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease and endometritis.
If you’ve recently had sex with a new partner (or are about to), it makes sense to take a test. You may have no symptoms, or you may have one or more of the following. You can contact us for a quick and easy at-home test kit with results in 2-3 days from receipt at the lab, order here.
In whatever case, be safe. And enjoy yourself!
Possible symptoms to watch out for:
- Bumps, sores or rashes
- Itching and/or burning
- Pain or burning when urinating
- Unusual vaginal, anal or penile discharge
- Bleeding (other than your period)
- Skin growths around the genitals or anus
- A rash
- Blisters and sores around genitals or anus