On this World AIDS Day, FII along with Proactive For Her are asking a very important, yet overlooked question, how can we normalise conversations around sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? Let’s take a look!
1. We’ll Need To Start By Talking About STIs First
Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that can be transmitted through sexual contact. ‘Sexually transmitted’ can also be a bit of a misnomer, since not all STIs are transmitted through sex, some are also transferred by oral intercourse, anal intercourse, kissing, and outercourse that can transfer pubic lice etc. In a society like ours, where sex in itself is taboo, even more stigma and judgement surrounds the conversation around STIs. But it’s important to break this silence.
2. Have I Heard About STIs Before?
Yes, you might have! Note that STIs are not caused by sexual contact, but rather transmitted through it. Bacteria, viruses and some bugs can cause STIs, which can then be transmitted between sexual partners through sexual contact. STIs caused by viruses include hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, and the human papilloma virus (HPV). STIs caused by bacteria include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Pubic lice and Trichomonas are some STIs that are caused by bugs.
3. How Do I Know If I Have An STI?
Commonly, STIs can be identified by the presence of a rash, or a boil or an ulcer either in the vaginal area or towards the vulva or on the penis. In STIs like herpes, boils can also appear on fingers and the mouth. While rare, symptoms like pain while passing urine, pain during intercourse or inter-menstrual bleeding, can also indicate an STI. Some STIs can also be asymptomatic for years (which means while you may have no symptoms, but you could still be giving it to others), so it’s important to get tested regularly!
Also read: From Authority To Empathy: Patient-Centered Healthcare In India
STIs are often confused with Urine Tract Infections (UTIs) or yeast infections, due to these conditions having some common symptoms. A curd-like discharge from the vagina indicates a yeast-infection. Frequent urination, pain in the lower abdomen can indicate the presence of a UTI. If you’re still confused, you can also talk to your partner and see if they might be experiencing the same symptoms, since some STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be asymptomatic in women, but they might show symptoms in men.
4. So, How Can I Protect Myself From STIs?
Using protection like external and internal condoms and dental dams during penetrative or oral sex is a good way to protect oneself from STIs. Some other safe sex practices like getting tested at least once a year if you are sexually active, asking your partner(s) to do the same, following some crucial hygiene practices for sex toys, and using water-based lubricants etc. can also help you protect yourself from STIs. Talk to your doctor about vaccines for STIs like HPV and Hepatitis B.
5. We Have To Normalise STI Testing!
STIs are not a death sentence anymore, although stigma and judgement still surround STI testing, but it’s important to understand that regular STI testing only helps people take care of their sexual and reproductive health. Anyone who is sexually active, especially if they’ve never been tested before or if they are entering a new relationship, should get tested for STIs. People who have had more than one sexual partner should ensure that their partners and they themselves get tested frequently.
Also read: We Need To Talk About Unsafe Sex And Our Dilemmas Around Using Contraception
6. How Can I Initiate A Conversation About STIs With My Partner?
Talking about STI testing with your partner might make you feel weird or uncomfortable. But your partner might be happy that you brought the topic. It just says you care for your health and your partners’ too. Most STIs are curable with medication. You or your partner can have an STI for years and might not know it at all if it turns out to be asymptomatic. The only way to confirm is to get tested regularly. Most of the STIs are curable with medication. So the earlier you get yourself diagnosed, the better!
7. Proactive For Her Is Working To End The Judgement Around STIs
If you don’t know where to start with your sexual and reproductive health, you can either talk to one of Proactive For Her’s non-judgemental gynaecologists, STI experts, nutritionists and psychologists to take charge of your own health; or start by reading Proactive For Her’s expert-authored blogs. You can choose a doctor here. And read their blogs here.
This article is part of a collaboration between Proactive For Her and FII. Proactive For Her is a digital clinic for women offering accessible, personalized, and confidential health-care solutions. The company offers products and services for out-patient health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime – from puberty to pregnancy to menopause. You can know more about Proactive For Her by visiting their website or following them on Facebook and Instagram.