If you did the whole V-Day thing, chances are you were also looking to get laid. And why not? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of nookie: it’s good exercise and it feels really, really lovely. There’s nothing that says ‘I fancy you’, however, less eloquently than an STD – at best, it’s a turn-off. At worst, it’s life-threatening.
Sexually transmitted diseases are passed on through bodily fluids – and none of them are particularly pleasant (the diseases, not the fluids), to put it mildly. The good news is that most are treatable and – perhaps this is what you should focus on – preventable. Here’s the lowdown:
Symptoms: For women, gonorrhoea can have a particularly devastating effect on reproductive health, since women usually don’t experience any symptoms. Where symptoms are present, there can be discharge from the genitals, pain urinating and pain in the lower abdomen.
Treatment: An infection can usually be effectively cured with antibiotics once it is detected.
How to avoid it: Condoms are your best protection.
Symptoms: Flat or cauliflower-like bumps, itching or discomfort around the genitals.
Treatment: There are many products out in the market that promise to cure genital warts. But by ‘cure’ they are actually referring to the alleviation and/or elimination of the symptoms of genital warts. The treatments only serve to get rid of the warts caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes the warts and is sexually transmitted. The virus will still remain since no cure for it has been found yet. Take heart, though: with treatment, in most cases the chances of recurrence happening is completely eliminated within two years. Women can be immunised against HPV – ask your GP about options.
How to avoid it: Unfortunately, wearing a condom will not prevent you from contracting HPV, as it does not require the exchange of bodily fluids during intercourse to be passed from one person to another – the virus is spread through direct skin contact. Being in a monogamous relationship and having your partner tested is the best way to prevent infection.
Symptoms: In some cases, the signs and symptoms of herpes can be so mild that they go unnoticed. When symptoms are present, they may be in the form of painful blisters or ulcers on the mouth or genitals, flu-like symptoms such as headaches or swollen glands. It may be painful to urinate.
Treatment: There is no treatment that can cure herpes, but antiviral medications can shorten and prevent outbreaks during the period of time the person takes the medication.
How to avoid it: The surest way to avoid transmission is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected. Wearing a condom will not prevent you from contracting herpes.
Symptoms: Ulcers (which are often painless) on the genitals, rashes and flu-like symptoms.
Treatment: Syphilis is treated with parenteral penicillin. This means that the penicillin is either injected into the muscle or given intravenously. Oral penicillin has not been shown to be effective in treating syphilis.
How to avoid it: Use a latex condom. Condoms can reduce your risk of contracting syphilis, but only if the condom covers the syphilis sores.
Pubic lice (aka crabs)
Symptoms: Itching, black powder found in underwear, white specks in pubic hair and even a mild fever.
Treatment: Ask your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments. Your GP will be able to provide a stronger prescription treatment.
How to avoid it: Pubic lice are easily spread, and there is no protection. The only thing that can reduce your risk of getting pubic lice is limiting the number of people with whom you have intimate or sexual contact. If you or your partner have pubic lice, do not have sex again until treatment is complete.
Apart form all the non-fatal STDs you can get, having unprotected sex is about the most suicidal thing you can do in South Africa – HIV and Aids are still rife. If you have been living under a very large rock for the last, oh, twenty years, visit Info.gov.za/faq/aids to find out more.