By Nessie, Youth Advisory Council member
Myth 1: You will know if you have an sexually transmitted infection (STI) or sexually transmitted disease (STD).
No, that’s not always true.
Myth 2: If I only have anal and oral sex, I can avoid getting an STI.
Also, not true.
Myth 3: Inseminating my partner will cure them of STIs or a yeast infection.
Most definitely not.
Those are three misconceptions I’ve heard about STIs and sexual health within the halls of your average American public high school. Often as youth, we are fed misinformation by our peers and other unreliable sources. Falling prey to those rumors is not 100% our fault though since there are major cracks in our sexual education system as well. So I would like to share some reliable information debunking and informing you of some myths and misconceptions surrounding STIs.
Myth 1: Oftentimes it is thought that you or your sexual partner will know that you have an STI so you will be able to avoid it. However, this is far from true. STIs often go unnoticed because they do not always have symptoms. For example, chlamydia, a common STI that people can get in the cervix, rectum, throat, or urethra (inside the penis), goes unnoticed in its early stages, and symptoms may take weeks to show. Symptoms of chlamydia may include: burning when urinating, pain during penetrative sex, abdominal pain, discharge from the vagina or penis, and vaginal bleeding. Since most of these signs could be confused for intestinal or menstrual cycle issues, they could be missed as an indicator of an STI. This is why getting tested in between sexual partners or monthly, depending on the rate or volume of sexual partners, is beneficial for treatment and to prevent the spread of STIs.
Myth 2: A second misconception, which surprisingly floats throughout the halls of high schools, is that inseminating your sexual partner can rid them of an STI or a yeast infection. If anything, this could cause far more problems. Unless one partner is on some form of birth control, such as the pill (also known as oral contraceptives), an intrauterine device (IUD), a hormonal patch, or a long acting injection (Depo), you risk a high chance of pregnancy. All STIs, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea can be spread through semen, increasing your risk of receiving or worsening an STI. There is also no limit to the number of STIs you can contract at a time. Having an STI can actually put you at a higher risk for contracting HIV or another STI since they can lead to sores or skin breakdown, our body’s first line of defense against infection. Someone who has an STI may also be engaging in higher risk sexual practices, such as having multiple partners or engaging in sexual activity while using substances, which could inhibit judgment, leading to riskier behaviors.
In addition, semen will not cure a yeast infection. Though a yeast infection is a fungal infection and not an STI, sexual activity may increase your risk. Semen, which is more alkaline, can disturb the vagina’s pH, which is more acidic. A yeast infection can occur when there is a change in the natural bacterial flora that reside in that area of the body. This can happen from antibiotics, diabetes, elevated estrogen levels, or a weakened immune system. People who wear tighter fitting non-cotton/synthetic underwear are seen more often with yeast infections as it traps in moisture. So as a pro tip, make sure you stick to cotton or breathable undies and avoid wearing tight fitting pants.
Myth 3: The last misconception is that avoiding vaginal penetration and substituting with anal or oral sex will reduce your risk of contracting an STI. However, this is not true since you will still be at risk for STIs with any sexual behavior that exposes you to sexual fluids, including oral sex, anal sex, and sharing sex toys without using a barrier method for protection. Whenever using toys, make sure to thoroughly clean them before using again. While the risk of some STIs are lower during oral sex, the risk is still very present. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and syphilis are transferable through oral sex (mouth to anus/genital contact) and anal sex (penis/sex toy to anus penetration).
The good news is there are resources and materials that can be used to help prevent, test, treat, and cure most STIs and symptoms. Most importantly, there are preventative measures to help reduce the risk of STIs. Condoms, dental dams, and internal condoms can be used to prevent STIs. They can be purchased at your local supermarket or drugstore, and are often given out for free at local clinics. You can also be vaccinated for HPV, which can protect against strains associated with cervical, anal, oral, and vulvar cancers–this applies to people of all genders. Thirdly, talk to your sexual partner(s) about keeping track of who they have sex with or reducing the amount of sexual partners you both choose to have. Remember, getting tested regularly is one of the best ways to keep you and your sexual partners healthy and safe–along with those other preventative measures!
You can also learn more about STIs and get tested by your usual medical provider (pediatrician, gynecologist, family medicine doctor, etc.) at your local health department or a nearby Planned Parenthood. However, if you are looking to get tested for an STI and do not want parental notification or cannot obtain their help in getting tested, minors’ rights laws protect your privacy by keeping information confidential. Ask your provider for ways to ensure that your parents/guardians do not find out. Linked below is Planned Parenthood’s website, informing you of STI treatment services, location, and how to book appointments or receive treatment.
Finally if you suspect you have a yeast infection, you can also see your primary care clinician/medical provider or gynecologist (if you see one!) for testing and treatment. Despite how it seems, it’s not scary. Your clinician will simply talk to you about your symptoms, complete a physical exam, most likely ask for a urine sample to make sure it’s not a urinary tract infection (UTI), and prescribe a method of treatment. Usually it’s a one time pill, which may be prescribed alongside an anti-fungal cream as it can be more cost effective. With proper treatment, you’ll soon be on the road to recovery.
STIs seem quite scary, but there are many ways to treat and prevent them. As long as you use the preventable measures available to you, get checked out by your doctor or get regular testing and assessment by your primary care clinician (which we highly recommend if you’re able!), and seek treatment if you do get an STI, you’ll be okay!