1. What is the best way to protect yourself against STIs?
The best way to protect yourself is practicing safer sex. That means condoms, condoms, condoms! And dams of course. And wear them the whole time. Condoms are the best way to reduce the risk of transmission of all STIs.
Unprotected sex with a regular partner is only safe if both of you are only having sex with each other, and you both have had a recent STI check-up.
2. What are some of the symptoms of STIs?
There are lots of symptoms, just remember not all of these mean you have an STI. Your doctor is the best person to assess these.
Things you should look out for are:
- Pain when urinating
- Pain with sex
- Abnormal discharge from your penis
- Abnormal vaginal discharge – though this is more commonly a symptom of thrush or bacterial vaginosis than an STI
- Vaginal or pelvic pain
- Anal ulcers or pain
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex
- Genital itch
- Genital rash or spots
- Ulcers or warts on your genitals or anal area or the skin surround these areas.
3. What health check should you do if you suspect you have an STI?
Make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health clinic. They will discuss symptoms and arrange the required tests. There are different types of STI tests, the most common and easiest is a providing a urine (wee) sample. Other tests may include a blood test or swab of the infected area.
We recommend for sexually active people under 30 to have an STI check at least every year, and for all ages to have an STI check before a new relationship or with a change in partners. However, if you're casually dating or have multiple partners it's recommended to get an STI check every 3 months.
4. Are STIs treatable?
Most STIs can be easily cured or treated, while others such as herpes can be controlled with medicines.
For chlamydia it's a single dose or weekly course of antibiotics.
5. What are the long-term risks of STIs?
If left undiagnosed and untreated, some STIs can have long-term effects such as chronic pelvic pain and infertility. Sometimes, certain STIs don't show any symptoms. For example, chlamydia shows no symptoms in 80% of women and 50% of men. What's more, chlamydia is a common STI, present in 5-10% of the young adult population.
In some women, untreated chlamydia can lead to infertility and other complications – a scary thought for something you don't even know you have and something that is easily treatable. That's why it's really important to get your regular STI check-ups with your doctor. The sooner you get onto them, the better. And in the meantime, use condoms and dams to reduce your chance of getting an STI.
Young Aussies are being significantly under-screened for STIs, with 28% skipping out on essential sexual health checks. A survey by Geni of Australians aged 18–35 found that insufficient knowledge about sexual health due to "very basic" and "bad" sex education in high schools may be to blame.
This month is STI Awareness Month, highlighting the importance of booking a sexual health check and getting tested for STIs if and when needed. A national survey by La Trobe University found that nearly half of students in Years 10–12 are sexually active. However, the rate of STIs in Australia is on the rise, indicating that crucial sexual health checks are being skipped nationwide.
Around 97,000 Australians are diagnosed with chlamydia each year. STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can often be asymptomatic. Young adults who are choosing to forego sexual health checks are potentially transmitting an infection to an intimate partner unknowingly. Undiagnosed STIs can lead to long-term health consequences such as infertility.
There is significant variation in the sex education teaching materials in Australian schools, resulting in students being provided with inconsistent sexual health advice. Insights from the survey also indicated that sex education was often only provided for heteronormative relationships, with little to no information given to students about same-sex relationships and sexual experiences.
Organisations such as the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) are working to combat the gap in the curriculum.
Elizabeth Ham, National Health Promotions Manager at ACCF, said: "We run a national schools program called 'HPV & Me' that is available to high school students in Years 7 to 12. It is an awareness program that provides students with preventive strategies to reduce the health risks associated with the common STI, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), that if left unchecked, can lead to cervical cancer and a range of other cancers caused by HPV."
Fearing awkwardness, not wanting to show their genitals to a stranger and finding the subject uncomfortable were cited as barriers for respondents who had never had a sexual health check before.
The Geni smartphone app provides a safe space for young adults to learn more about their sexual health. Geni acts as a sexual health sidekick, featuring a self-check survey that allows users to assess whether they are due for a sexual health check. The app also answers frequently asked questions about sexual health and provides First Nations and LGBTQ+ friendly healthcare resources.
Hologic, the creator of Geni, is an innovative medical technology company primarily focused on improving women's health and well-being through early detection and treatment. Aggie Cox, Marketing Director ANZ at Hologic, said: "STIs are a normal part of adult life, it's important for young adults to know they do not need to be embarrassed. We created Geni to help improve awareness, address the stigma associated with discussing sexual health and as part of our wider commitment to providing better access to healthcare for women. Geni is there to help you take the right steps to ensure that STIs are being prevented where possible and treated properly by a healthcare professional. Geni ensures individuals are in control of
their sexual health and have the information they need when they need it."
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