What is an STI?

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is caused by an organism (bacteria, virus, or parasite) that can be passed from one person to another during sex or through intimate contact. Sometimes these are called STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or VDs (venereal diseases), too. The term STI is broader and more encompassing because some infections are curable and/or may not cause any symptoms.

How does someone get an STI?

Most STIs are passed (or transmitted) between sexual partners through unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Some STIs are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. Using condoms and other barriers for vaginal, oral and anal sex is a good way to lower the chances of transmitting many STIs.

How do I know if I have an STI?

You may not notice any changes in your body when you have an STI. Sometimes the symptoms are easy to miss and/or they may last only a short time. Even when you don’t notice any symptoms, you can still pass an STI to a sexual partner. The only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to get tested / checked out by a healthcare provider.

How can I decrease the chances of getting an STI?

  • Get tested: Get tested to know if you have an STI and get medications if needed. When you are seeing a new sexual partner, getting tested before having sex can help prevent STIs.
  • Know your options: Some ways of having sex have less chance of passing on STIs than others. Learn about sexual activities and related chances of STIs, and choose those that you are comfortable with!
  • Talk with partners: It can be easier to talk about boundaries and testing prior to being in the heat of the moment, but there is no bad time to talk about it.
  • Get vaccinated: For Hepatitis B and HPV.
  • Use protection: Use a new condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Use protection when giving or receiving oral sex. (Hello, condoms & dental dams!) A dental dam is a small, thin, latex sheet that covers the mouth as a form of protection from vaginal or anal fluids while performing oral sex. You can also make a dental dam out of a condom or latex glove.

What else should I know about STIs?

  • Test after the window periods for each STI. If you test too early, your results may not be accurate.
  • If you are being treated for an STI, wait until both you and your partners have finished the medication before you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Using drugs and alcohol can affect your decision-making. Plan ahead of of time about what kind of sex you are okay with and how much alcohol or drugs you will have.

What happens if I get an STI?

If you’re sexually active, it is a good idea to get tested regularly. If you’re worried you might be infected, getting tested can ease your mind, or give you some helpful next steps.

Some STIs can cause serious health problems if left untreated. If your results come back positive (meaning you have an STI), your health care provider will tell you what kind of treatment you need.  Some types of STIs can be cured with medication. Other STIs can be treated with medications, but not cured.

If you do have an STI, your health care provider may ask about anyone that you have had sex with in the past 2 to 12 months, depending on the STI.

What can I do to protect myself and my partners from STIs?

STIs are common infections. If you are sexually active, it is likely you might have an STI at some time in your life. However, there are things you can do to prevent STIs! You can practice safer sex with your partners, get tested regularly, and communicate any results to your partners immediately. You can also encourage your partners to get tested regularly—and even offer to get tested together.

If you or your partner is living with an STI...

You can help to protect yourself and your partner and still have a healthy sex life- safer sex does not have to get in the way of good sex. Always using barriers is a good way to lower the chances of passing on an STI. And communication is key!