By Brianna Green
Picture this: you’re eighteen, you just moved to college, and you didn’t have much sex education in high school because you live in America. As the first semester starts and progresses, you start talking to a really cute classmate. At the end of the semester, you celebrate passing your shared class by having a fun, unprotected night together. However, shortly after this night, winter break starts and you both go back to your hometowns. While you’re home you notice that you’re urinating more frequently and it’s painful. At the same time, you experience urethral discharge that you’ve never had before. You tell your parents, and they take you to the doctor…
The doctor tells you that you have an STI. Gonorrhea, to be specific.
You ask, “What’s an STI? How can I have one if I’ve only had sex one time, with one person?”
Unfortunately for the student, STIs do not care about how many times or people you’ve had sex with. The student’s confusion makes sense though, because, according to the Guttmacher Institute, not every state mandates sex education: 39 states and DC do, but only 18 states require the information to be medically accurate. When less than half the states mandate medically accurate sex education, my fictional student may be remarkably relatable to some actual college students throughout the United States.
So, what are STIs? “STI” stands for a sexually transmitted infection: infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual activity. According to the World Health Organization, STIs range from curable infections such as “the clap” (gonorrhea) to permanent diseases such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Office on Women’s Health indicates that STIs are (typically) transmitted through sexual contact involving the mouth, genitals, and/or anus; they can pass through bodily fluids such as semen, vaginal secretions, and blood. If someone is not wearing protection, such as a condom or dental dam, they are more likely to become infected. Not only that, the more unprotected partners you have, the higher the risk of becoming infected. However, as mentioned earlier, STIs do not care about how many times or people you’ve had sex with. Similar to pregnancy, you can still catch an STI (or get pregnant) even if it’s your first time.
Although, if you get an STI, it’s not the end of the world. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 Americans have an STI and almost half of the infections are from individuals between the ages of 15 to 24. Summit Health says that gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis are curable STIs with assistance from a doctor’s visit. One of the best ways to protect yourself is by getting frequently tested for STIs. Multiple sources have stated that some STIs can be asymptomatic and you can be infected without having any symptoms. PrioritySTD suggests how often to get tested; for example, if you’re single and causally dating, every few months is ideal, and even if you’re in a relationship, you should get tested yearly, since some STIs can take months or years to show up.
In my next blog post, I’ll talk about how to practice safe sex, when to get tested for specific STIs and where on campus and in the Kansas City area you can get tested and treated. Until then, don’t forget to practice safe sex and get tested!