The mere words – sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – bring most of us back to those awkward, embarrassing health education classes in high school. Discussing sex was difficult enough, but when it came time to talk about STDs, the conversation was almost unbearable.
In the mind of a high school student, the knee jerk reaction was, “Do I really need to know this stuff? It’ll never happen to me.” Unfortunately that same initial denial about STDs is probably all too familiar to the one in five Americans who have an STD or the estimated 68 million Americans who were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection in 2018 alone.
Our OB/GYN, Dr. Brandon Lingenfelter, pulls back the curtain and offers a health-focused, nonjudgmental view of the diseases and explains why regular testing for STDs is important.
Let’s get started with terminology. You’ve heard of HIV/AIDS and most likely are familiar with the terms genital herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. These are all sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes also referred to as sexually transmitted infections or STIs.
Other common STDs are genital warts, hepatitis B, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. In fact, the term STDs is the name given to more than 35 infectious organisms that have one thing in common – they’re spread primarily through any sexual activity that involves the mouth, penis, vagina, or anus.
Regular testing is important
Practicing safe sex, like using a condom, is a great way to protect you and your partner from getting an STD. However, short of abstaining from sex altogether, technically anyone who engages in any type of sexual activity can get or spread sexually transmitted diseases.
STD spread is not about being promiscuous or being an intravenous drug user, although dirty needles can transmit STDs. If you have even one unprotected sexual encounter with someone who’s infected, you can get an STD.
Everyone should be tested
Having an honest discussion with Dr. Lingenfelter is the first step to knowing what STD testing is best for you and how often you should be tested. At our practice we think it’s prudent for everyone aged 13-64 to have at least one HIV test during their lifetime. However, people who have unprotected sex or who share drug needles should get annual HIV tests.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are fairly common among younger people, so we recommend our patients under the age of 25 get screened for these STDs every year. Similarly, women 25 and older who have new or multiple partners should get annual STD testing.
Future fertility issues
Although some STDs have obvious symptoms like sores or rashes or cause things like painful urination, you or your partner may not have any outward symptoms. If you’re sexually active, you may have an STD and could be spreading it unknowingly.
Potentially spreading an STD is scary enough. But the possible implications are even more serious if you want to have children someday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year untreated and undiagnosed STDs result in at least 24,000 American women becoming infertile.
Passing STDs to your baby
If you’re pregnant and infected, the results can be equally devastating. You can pass STDs to your baby during when you’re pregnant or during delivery, leading to complications. For example, syphilis and gonorrhea have been connected to a wide range of conditions, including low birth weight, stillbirth, premature birth, and sadly, death after birth.
To prevent these health complications, we recommend testing for hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis as part of our prenatal care services. We also recommend that at-risk pregnant women get screened for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
If you’re concerned about STDs and would like to know more about STD testing and treatment, book a consultation. You can count on the highest quality services delivered in a respectful, confidential, and supportive environment. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Lingenfelter by using the online booking tool or call our office in Princeton, West Virginia.