Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) : Questions and Answers
The two most common sexually transmitted infections among young people are:
- Chlamydia: Because this STI sometimes shows no symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose. It can cause infertility in the long term, plus an unpleasant discharge from the penis or vagina.
- Genital warts: These hard, gritty bumps can appear around the genitals or anus. They don’t always spread through penetrative sex – sometimes close genital contact is enough.
More serious but less common STIs include Syphilis, HIV and Hepatitis B.
The best way to protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections is to wear a condom.
Many STIs are simple to treat if spotted early. So, if you think you might have one, make an appointment with your nearest Sexual health service(CLICK HERE) and get it sorted.
Many young people worry about going to the sexual health clinic to ask questions about or get checked for STIs. The services are free, confidential and non judgemental. It’s important to get checked and make sure you do follow up any treatment to protect yourself and your partner from further infection.
These are some of the questions young people ask, and the answers.
How do I know if I have an STI?
If you have had unprotected sex (not used a CONDOM), then you might have caught an STI. It is not unusual to have no symptoms when you have certain STIs.
Some people may get some unusual discharge from the penis, and may experience some discomfort when peeing.
Vaginal discharge should have a slight odour and should never cause itching or burning. Problems like itching, a strong odour, or a change in colour (such as brown, grey, or green) may indicate a vaginal infection and any person experiencing these needs to see a doctor. They may also experience pain when having a pee.
Bleeding between periods and especially after having sex can also be a symptom of an STI.
What is an ‘STI check’ and what happens?
If you are not having any symptoms, then you would be offered a basic screen. This involves a urine sample for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea or people who have a penis. People with a vagina would be asked to do a swab sample, which involves using a small swab, like a cotton bud, from just inside the vagina. Also a blood test for HIV and Syphilis would be offered. All of these infections can be present without you having any symptoms.
It needs to be at least 2 weeks since exposure until you can be tested for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea and up to 12 weeks for a definative HIV and SYPHILIS test.
If you are experiencing discharge you may have a swab taken and the substance collected would be placed onto a slide and looked at under the microscope while you waited. It is possible to see if there is any infection about and treat you on that day.
If you are worried about any changes in the skin around the genital area this can be checked out when you are at the clinic. Warts are the second most common sexual infection and will, if left alone, go away on their own but you may be given some cream to help this happen.
Herpes is another sexual infection and causes very uncomfortable sores, which will weep and cause stinging when you pass urine. There is medication you can take to help with the symptoms of Herpes and the sooner it is taken the better is works. The sores will go away on their own eventually, although the virus will stay in your system. If you have any sores a swab may be taken and sent of as both Herpes and SYPHILIS can present with sores.
My partner says I don’t look normal down there
One of the most common worries is that your vagina looks wrong, that it has dangly bits that should not be there and that anyone looking at it will recoil in horror.
The truth is that everyone looks slightly different ‘down there’, and everything is not always tucked away neatly. Your inside labia lips may well hang quite far down below your outer lips and there can be extra skin all over the place, this is normal. CLICK HERE to see more about this.
What do I do if I find a lump?
Most lumps and swellings under the skin are harmless but you should have them checked by a doctor. In general if a painful lump or swelling appears over a day or two it is usually caused by an injury or infection. If the skin around the lump is red and warm to touch it is likely to be an infection.
It’s good to be familiar with what is normal in your body, and know when there are changes so that you can get checked. You may want to check out The Penis, Testicles & Other Bits for more information about lumps and bumps.
What is normal discharge?
Vaginal discharge means the fluid or mucous that comes out of the vagina. Normal vaginal fluid can vary, it might be thin and slightly sticky, to thick and gooey. It can be clear to white or off white in colour and the amount can vary depending on the time of the menstrual cycle.
If a partner has an STI will I know by looking at their genitals?
Not necessarily. If they have active Warts or Herpes, these will be obvious to see, as will any unusual discharge. It is best to use a condom as the majority of those who have an STI will not have any symptoms.
Is it normal for people with a penis to have discharge? Should I be looking/milking for it?
When someone with a penis is sexually aroused there will be some leakage from the end of the penis but normally there will not be any discharge. No, you should not be milking it to look for discharge. If you have a discharge it will be obvious.
How safe are condoms against STIs
Using condoms is really sensible as they will prevent the majority of sexual infections being passed on, The transmitting of the Herpes and Wart virus will not always be prevented by using condoms, as they are passed on by skin to skin contact.
Are genital warts a ‘dirty’ infection?
Warts are the second most common sexual infection although mostly harmless, are probably the most disliked STI, as they are not attractive. They are easily treated and are not ‘dirty’ in any way.
If I have had an STI does that mean I can’t get pregnant?
People often worry that if they have had a STI they will not be able to become pregnant in the future. There is a small risk that Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea can cause fallopian tubes to become blocked, but it does not happen often. Statistically the more times you have an infection the higher the risk.