What’s an STI? Why should I get tested?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – sometimes called Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs – are viruses or germs that are spread through sexual contact. Even though they’re all under the STI category, they can be really different. Some are treated pretty easily and go away with medication from your doctor, and some will stay with you for life. Some STIs have noticeable symptoms, but a lot of them don’t have any symptoms at all.
Yup, you can’t tell if someone has an STI just by looking at them. The only way to know if you or a partner has an STI is to get tested at a doctor’s office. It’s totally okay to ask your doctor for an STI test; you’re taking control of your health and that’s something to be proud of! Your doctor might offer you an STI test at your next visit, but it’s okay to ask for one too.
When you get tested, you’re up on your status, and that’s a good thing. If you do get diagnosed with an STI, you can get treatment, let your partner know your status, and you don’t have to worry about knowing the answer. It’s not an easy conversation to have with your partner, but communication and honesty are major building blocks in a happy, sexy relationship!
STIs and Teens
About half of the people in the U.S. who get diagnosed with an STI are teens. (Yikes!) Sexually active teens often don’t get tested and treated before they pass an STI along to a partner.
Luckily, North Carolina has awesome docs who want to help teens. They offer regular testing for free or very low cost. You have the right to get tested and treated for an STI without anybody finding out.
How Are STIs Spread
STIs are spread through sexual contact, which can mean a lot of different things, including:
- Vaginal sex
- Oral sex
- Anal sex
- Genital touching
- Sharing sex toys
Not all STIs are spread the same way. Check out each STI for details on how it’s spread and how to prevent it.
Reduce Your Risk
STIs are avoidable! While the only 100% effective way to avoid all STIs is to avoid all sexual contact, there are some easy steps you can take to prevent getting them.
- Get tested – and make sure your partner gets tested too! Getting STI tests at a doctor’s office is the only way to know for sure. Many STIs don’t have symptoms and all kinds of people can get them. (It doesn’t matter if they’re super cute, trustworthy or get good grades, the risk is still there.)
- Get treatment if you need it. Getting treatment can help you get back to your normal routine. Some STIs are treated easily with antibiotics, and others need more serious medication. Either way, get a doctor’s help if you’re worried.
- Use protection. Condoms and other barriers can do a great job of helping you avoid STIs. Just remember to use them correctly every time you have sex. Barriers can include:
- Condoms – Provides great protection by protecting you from semen, vaginal fluids, or microscopic bits of blood during vaginal, oral, and anal sex. Condoms can also cover sex toys if you’re sharing them.
- Internal condoms – Can be inserted into the vagina or anus during sex. Internal condoms are latex free, so they’re great for people with latex allergies.
- Dental dams – A little latex sheet that can protect you during oral sex (mouth-to-vagina, or mouth-to-anus). You can DIY a dental dam by cutting open a latex condom. For more info about dental dams, here’s a good article from Buzzfeed.
Some STIs like HPV can spread through skin-to-skin contact. And even though these barriers can be really effective, there is still risk of getting certain STIs. Check each STI page for more info.
- Get vaccinated against HPV! Both guys and girls should get this vaccine. Down the road, it prevents some deadly cancers like cervical, mouth, throat, and penis cancer.
- Talk to your partner about sex. It’s more than about having good sex. It’s also about making sure you’re on the same page about your STI status and birth control. (If you can talk about sex, you can talk about pretty much anything!)
Birth Control + Condoms
Want to prevent both STIs and an accidental pregnancy? Using condoms AND a highly effective birth control method is a magic combination. Check our birth control finder to find a birth control method you love, grab some condoms at the store, then find a doc who can get you the birth control and STI testing.
In North Carolina, you have the right to get confidential HIV and STI tests and treatment without a parent’s permission. That means you can get any STI test and whatever treatment the doctor orders – and nobody will know unless you tell them. (Do talk about your STI status with your partner though. Not telling a sexual partner that you have an STI is seriously shady.)
Want to get tested, but not sure where to start? Use this nifty search tool to find a testing site near you.