Sexual health 3

Know your enemy: Taking care of your… sexual health #3

All STDs are basically the same in one regard, they’re a total nuisance to get. But for most of them, it’s not the end of the world. Hell, even the ones that you can’t cure can now be managed through the use of medication. 

The symptoms for most of these are basically something unexpected happening in your downstairs area. So we won’t provide descriptions of symptoms unless the symptoms differ. This article is intended as an overview of the different STDs. That way you know what you’re working with if something unusual is happening down there. 

See the earlier articles in Taking care of your… sexual health to understand: what your risks are and how to minimize those risks

Disclaimer: We’re a men’s grooming brand, not doctors. The information in this article is meant for illustrative purposes only, and should not be used to self-diagnose. If you think you have an STI or are at risk for an STI, contact your doctor immediately. Testing and treatment will vary by country. Speak to a local medical profession to receive the care that’s most appropriate for you. And if in doubt don’t tough it out, taking care of yourself is sexy, go speak to a medical professional. 

Chlamydia

Is one of the most common infections in the world. Over half of the population is likely to get it at some stage. It’s also a sneaky little virus, in that it doesn’t always present symptoms. And as a result can go undetected, and be passed on without you even knowing you have it. 

Because it’s so common it will be included in any routine STD test. And even without symptoms, it can cause problems. Cervical cancer in women and erectile dysfunction in men. Luckily this is one of the diseases which is pretty straightforward to treat. Your doctor will prescribe you some antibiotics. And after one to two weeks of abstinence you’ll be back in the saddle again. 

Gonorrhoea

Colloquially known as ‘The Clap’ gonorrhoea is another common STD. As with chlamydia you can get gonorrhoea without symptoms, but if you do have symptoms you’ll know it. I once had the symptoms described to me in incredibly graphic terms, and frankly it doesn’t bear repeating. Suffice to say it will probably ruin your week. 

Again because it won’t always present symptoms it should be included as part of your regular STD checkup. While less serious if left untreated, it can also cause complications further down the line. And if you have it and don’t treat it you can also pass it on to your sexual partners. Don’t do that. 

Luckily it’s also a simple one to treat, some antibiotics and time out and you’ll be right as rain. But if you do have to take antibiotics, take them as prescribed. Or you could be contributing to Super Gonorrhoea, and nobody wants to be responsible for that. 

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, or trich, is a parasitic STI that is transmitted by genital to genital contact. And it’s the most common non-viral STI in the world. Like many of the STIs on this list, it can often be present without symptoms. One study estimating that up to 85% of women with the illness do not have symptoms. When symptoms are present they can be similar to those of other STIs, burning while peeing, unusual discharge, etc. 

Trich is generally not serious and once detected it can usually be cleared up within a week. Although re-acquisition of the illness, particularly among women, is very high. A follow-up check-up 3 months after the initial checkup is a good precautionary measure. While not serious itself, trich can make it easier for you to contract other STIs, especially HIV. Having trich also reduces the effectiveness of HIV medication. Increasing the likelihood that you can transmit HIV to someone else if you have it. 

HPV / Genital warts

HPV is the most common type of STI there is. With over 200 strains of the HPV virus and 40 of them affecting the genitals. The chances of you avoiding it if you’re sexually active are low. It’s estimated that 80% of Americans will have contract HPV at some stage before the age of 50. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact during sexual intercourse. So the only way to fully avoid it is by abstaining from sex. 

HPV is mostly not something to worry about. The virus often doesn’t present any symptoms and will clear up to an undetectable level within two years. There are two forms of HPV that are classified as low and high risk. Low-risk HPV causes genital warts that, while unsightly, aren’t serious. And can be cleared up with topical creams, or by burning them off. The high-risk forms of HPV only negatively affect women. And they can cause complications during pregnancy and lead to cervical cancer. 

HPV Vaccine

There is currently a large international push to eradicate the high-risk HPV viruses through vaccination. The WHO projects that the HPV vaccine will save 300.000 lives by 2030, and 74 million lives by 2070. Based on these predictions the virus is set to be 97% eradicated by 2120. This relies heavily on people continuing to get vaccinated, with uptake numbers falling in recent years. So if you’re male, and aren’t at risk for the negative consequence you should still take the vaccine if offered. You’ll be protecting any women you sleep with from getting HPV-related cancer. And be part of eradicating a preventable illness and saving the lives of millions of women for years to come. You hero you! 

Genital herpes

Genital herpes, also known as HSV, is another virus in a similar vein to HPV. Herpes is a fairly common STI with more than 15% of Americans between the age of 14-49 years old having the virus. That’s one in six of your American friends.

Herpes doesn’t have a cure or a vaccine so the key is symptom management and protecting your partners. There are medications available that can both reduce the symptoms and make it more difficult to pass on the virus. You should also abstain from having sex when you have a herpes outbreak to reduce the risk or spreading the virus. 

HIV/AIDS

HIV is an autoimmune virus which can eventually turn into AIDS if left untreated. HIV/AIDS is one of the few illnesses on this list, like herpes above, which isn’t curable, but which can be treated and managed. It takes 8-10 years for HIV to develop into AIDS so the key is catching it early. See How to minimise your risk which makes the case for regular STI screening. 

Nowadays it’s less likely that people in developed countries will progress from HIV to AIDS. With the correct use of antiviral medication it’s possible to reduce the viral load of the illness. Medication exists which reduces HIV’s viral load to the point where it’s not possible to transmit the illness even during unprotected sex. 

HIV exhibits flu-like symptoms in the first few weeks, which is when the illness is at its most spreadable. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV PEP medication can reduce the chance of the virus taking hold if taken within the first three days. It’s advised to use this in the emergency cases, and it shouldn’t be seen as  a viable option for regular use. 

Pubic lice/scabies

Pubic lice, more commonly known as crabs, are tiny insects that live in pubic hair. (But they can also live in any other body hair too.) Scabies are a similar type of mite to crabs, but instead of living on the hair they will burrow into the skin. Both are some of the few STI which are not protected by condom use. But can only be caught through close sexual contact, or in rare cases from swapping clothes. Fortunately, while uncomfortable, they are not serious and can mostly be dealt with using creams and ointments. 

Crabs themselves are very difficult to see, but their white eggs will be much more visible. Crabs can only be caught through sexual contact, and are not a result of poor hygiene. The risk of catching crabs can be reduced through removing your pubic hair as they need hair to survive. 

But be warned, you should never shave if you already have crabs. 

They are resilient creatures and can live on any hair on the body, so shaving will do nothing more than move them along, prolonging the treatment phase. You will need to get rid of the little blighters first and then go back to shaving if you so desire. 

See our article on How to shave your ball…keep ‘em warm, to make it harder for this tiny parasite to call you body its home. 

Syphilis

Ah syphilis, ye olde STI. The bane of poets, and painters, and kings throughout the ages. From Napoleon to Scott Joplin and Ivan the Terrible through to Oscar Wilde no one was safe from syphilis’ bacterial embrace. That is until Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, and bacterial antibiotics were invented. Hurray!

Syphilis is contracted during any form of sexual intercourse when contact is made with a syphilitic sore. Once contracted you’ll develop your own syphilitic sore within about three weeks, which usually doesn’t itch or discharge. This sore will go away again and you will get a new round of symptoms after a few weeks. These can also clear up on their own, but it’s honestly not worth letting them. Syphilis left untreated can wreak havoc and can chip away at your body and mind over many years until it will eventually kill you. 

Al Capone died of syphilis he caught in one of his brothels. Which ravaged his mind and body and was only diagnosed years later when he was imprisoned. His ill health eventually led to his release from prison on compassionate grounds. He later died from a stroke caused by the illness. And was described by one of his associates as “nuttier than a fruitcake” in his final years, after syphilis degraded his mental capacity.  

The tidy up.

While there are more than enough horrible little viruses, bacterias and parasites out there, the take away from this is that all of them are treatable – if not curable. And while getting an STI is never going to be an experience you’re excited about, it’s not going to be the end of the world. Most sexually active people will get one at some stage, and there are as many treatments as there are illnesses. 

To increase your chances of avoiding them altogether see the previous articles in this series: How to minimise your risk: Taking care of your…sexual health #2 The following article will tackle what to do if you catch an STI. From testing and dealing with the medical professionals to tips on how to break it to your sexual partners. We’ve got your back. 

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