Sexuality - Sexually transmitted diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) include an array of diseases, some treatable and some not, that are transmitted primarily through sexual activity. The best way to almost completely reduce the risk of catching a STD is to abstain from sexual activity. Another method to reduce the odds of becoming infected is getting tested, along with one's planned sexual partner, for STDs, including and especially for HIV.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection is an immune system disorder (the immune system helps the body resist infection by diseases) that can be contracted through sexual activity as well as other types of contact. HIV is often labelled as an STD because of the high number of cases that emerge as a result of sexual activity, but it is important to note that HIV is not always contracted through sexual activity.
HIV can lead to the development of full-blown Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is also an immune system disorder. People catch HIV through sexual contact or by exposure to contaminated blood (such as through sharing dirty needles or a blood transfusion). People cannot contract HIV from sharing a meal, swimming in a pool, hugging, casual kissing, holding hands, or even sharing a toothbrush. Furthermore, there are no documented cases of transmission of HIV through French kissing. HIV can remain in the systems of the body for many years without leading to the development of AIDS; however, HIV can easily be detected with a blood test.
Many myths about AIDS have circulated since it was first discovered in the early 1980s. The first, and most fatal myth to women and heterosexual men, is that AIDS is only a "gay person's disease" or a syndrome limited to intravenous drug abusers who share needles with other users. The disease did devastate the gay community in the 1980s, but gay communities around the United States quickly took up a campaign of awareness and activism that led to a sharp decline in HIV-infection rates in that population. (These numbers, however, are going up again and are a big concern in the gay and lesbian community.) The strongest growing populations currently being infected with HIV include heterosexual women and teens. Specifically, young black heterosexual females are the fastest growing group of new cases.
Anyone who has sex is at risk for catching and/or spreading HIV. This is why practicing safe sex is imperative to everyone's health.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by a virus and is spread during sexual intercourse with an infected person. Girls often have no symptoms. Males are more likely to have symptoms, including irritation or burning during urination and a milky discharge from the penis in the morning. For females, the only indication of being infected with chlamydia may be vague, lower abdominal pain. As a result, women's reproductive organs may be damaged by Pelvic Inflammatory Disease if chlamydia is not treated in a timely way. Therefore, it is really important to get tested if one has had unprotected sex. The virus can be treated with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea is a STD caused by bacteria. It can occur in the cervix, penis, throat and rectum. Symptoms usually appear only in the male, similar to chlamydia. Two to nine days after infection, males will experience painful urination and a thick, yellow discharge from the penis. Boys experiencing these symptoms must inform any and all sexual partners so that those individuals can get tested and receive treatment. Gonorrhea can render women sterile (unable to have children) without treatment. It is treated with highdose antibiotics.
Herpes is another very common STD. Genital herpes affects 10 to 40 million Americans. The Herpes Simplex 2 virus causes it; this is the same virus that causes cold sores in and around the mouth. The herpes virus can be spread from the mouth to the genitals during oral sex. Two to twenty days after exposure, symptoms appear. Small, painful, pus-filled blisters appear on the labia, around the vagina, on the penis, and around the anus in both sexes. Swollen lymph glands, aching muscles and fever are some other symptoms. The symptoms subside after a few weeks, but the virus stays dormant in the body and can flare up regularly. It can also never flare up again. Even if there aren't any symptoms present, a person can still transmit the disease to another.
Compromised immunity and emotional stress can trigger symptoms. Sexually active individuals should be tested for herpes and all STDs even if no symptoms are present. At this time, there is no cure for genital or oral herpes. Treatment includes acyclovir, which can reduce symptoms and is available in topical and oral forms. A healthy diet and avoiding stress also are important.
There are three ways to practice 100 percent safe sex. They are abstinence, waiting until marriage to have sex (as long as one's marriage partner has done the same), and solo masturbation. If you choose to be sexually active, however, there are guidelines to safer sex. The first is to be informed. Know your body and know the risks. Know your sex partner and keep lines of communication wide open. Know their history, who they have had sex with, and if they have ever been diagnosed with a STD. People in monogamous (having only one partner at a time) relationships are at a lower risk for STDs.
Very safe sex includes: kissing with closed lips, rubbing against each other with clothes on (grinding), and sharing fantasies with a partner verbally.
The guidelines for reasonably safe sex are as follows: sexual intercourse using a condom and spermicidal jelly, French kissing, oral sex with a latex barrier like the "dental dam," and mutual masturbation. Unsafe sex includes the following: sexual intercourse without a condom, oral sex without a barrier, and mutual masturbation using sex toys that are shared.
The most important thing to remember about safe sex is that it is protecting one's very life if it is practiced. It is essential to insist that a potential partner agree to safe sex; this expresses the value one places on health and well-being and one's own high level of self-esteem. No one should be afraid to talk about it. If potential partners don't want to practice or even talk about safe sex, they are bad news. That means they don't value their own life, so it's highly doubtful they value anyone else's. There are many ways to give and receive pleasure without putting one's life in danger.
Syphilis is a STD caused by a very small, corkscrew-shaped spirochete (bacterium). It is spread by sexual contact and can be transmitted from a sex organ to an open cut on the skin of another person. Ten to ninety days after infection, a small, painless sore can appear on the genitals. After it goes away, weeks or months later a rash can appear all over the body, and swollen glands accompanied by flu-like symptoms may occur. Untreated syphilis does not go away. The disease can remain dormant for years and reappear when it is too late. The third stage of the disease may include nervous, brain, and circulatory system damage, and possibly death. Once detected, syphilis can be treated with penicillin.
Genital Warts, or Human Papilloma Virus
Genital warts (also known as Human Papilloma Virus) is the third most common STD. The warts are extremely contagious, and can appear on the vagina, cervix, penis, and rectum or in the urethra in the male. They are white-colored and cauliflower-shaped growths. They appear a few months after exposure. A physician can remove them with podophyllin, a medication, or by nitrogen freezing or laser treatment.
Crabs, or Pubic Lice
Crabs or pubic lice are spread by sexual contact with an infected partner or even by sharing of bedding, clothing, towels and toilet seats. Crabs cause intense itching and sometimes pain where the parasites have burrowed under the skin. A prescription drug called Kwell is the most effective treatment. Over-the-counter medications are also available. Washing bedding and clothing in hot water is essential follow-up for someone infected with crabs.