We probably all remember sex ed. Regardless of how awkward, uncomfortable, and naive sex was back then (and sometimes still is now!), our sex teachers forgot a few key pieces of information, specifically when it comes to sexual health and preventing STIs.
When we understand and educate ourselves on the prevention of STIs, we’re less likely to engage in behaviors that could put us at risk. It’s science really! Read on for all the info sex ed conveniently left out during the STI and HIV lesson.
1. When and how often to get tested
I don’t really ever remember my sex ed teacher telling me anything about getting tested for STIs. (Probably because he was too busy telling me to never have sex!). When, how, and how often you get tested can change from person to person, based on how many partners you have (or any other risk factors).
Ideally, you should always get tested in between partners. If you have multiple partners at one time, remember to practice safe sex (more about that later!) to prevent any infections from spreading from person to person.
Regardless of how many partners you have or if you’ve had the same partner for years, women under 25 should get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year. Those are the two most prevalent STIs in young women, and they often have little to no symptoms.
2. STIs don’t always present themselves
Sex ed shows us disgusting photos of the terrors of chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and genital warts. It’s not an awful tactic to make us afraid of STIs, but what it does do is tell us that STIs will always look like this. Sexually transmitted infections and HIV don’t always present themselves.
Chlamydia can lie dormant for months, especially in women, and the longer you leave it untreated, the worse it can affect your body. You can carry and pass the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) without even noticing it. Gonorrhea, like chlamydia, can sometimes show little to no symptoms. Herpes is generally associated with large, painful, red bumps, but that isn’t always the case. Most people (90%!) with herpes simplex 1 (the type that causes mouth sores) don’t even know they have it, even though it can be transmitted to the genitals through oral sex.
Basically what I’m trying to get at here is to get tested often and talk to your partners if he or she has had partners before you.
3. Same-sex couples are protected
While lesbian women are less susceptible to certain STIs than straight couples, sex education usually fails to express that same sex couples also need to take precautions. Bacterial vaginosis is more common in lesbian couples, so make sure you’re sanitizing any shared sex toys any getting tested often if any strange symptoms arise.
4. Condoms are the best way to prevent against STIs
It’s common to assume that because you’re on birth control, that you’re completely covered when it comes to sex! Wrong. Just because birth control protects you from unwanted pregnancy, without something else, you’re still susceptible to infections and HIV. That’s where the magical thing we’ve grown to love (and maybe hate) called condoms comes in! Condoms are 98% effective on protecting against both pregnancy (it’s always good to use two forms of birth control if you’re really trying to prevent pregnancy) and STIs.
5. There are ways to get tested for free!
STI and HIV testing don’t have to be a scary process that identifies your parents via a phone call (granted, this is an option if you’d like it!). In all states, minors do not need parental consent for STI testing, but private insurance companies might still send bills to your parents if they’re the primary insurance holder.
Most insurances cover annual screenings for the major STIs and HIV for free. If you think you’re at risk, however, it should be labeled as a “test” which should be covered by insurance. Local health clinics, Planned Parenthood, and other health centers usually offer free or affordable rates for testing as well. Check here to find more information on where you can get tested.
6. Oral sex can transmit STIs, too
I mean, think about it! Penis-in-vagina sex isn’t the only way to transmit bacteria and infections. Condoms and dental dams (a thin sheet of latex that you can place over the area to protect against transmitting STIs) are the easiest way to protect against infections when having oral sex.
7. No, you won’t get pregnant and die
Mean Girls taught us a lot of things, but it didn’t necessarily give us the best advice when it comes to sex and STIs. Sex ed often teaches us that sex is a scary concept, and if you get an STI, your entire life is over.
While you should get tested and protect yourself as much as you can, STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea are incredibly common in women under 24, and the CDC estimates that one out of six between the ages of 14 and 49 people has genital herpes.
If you are diagnosed with an STI, don’t panic. There are antibiotics, various medications, and lifestyle changes that can either make the infection go away or make it more bearable. This is not the end of the world, and you are not alone in this at all.