If you’re sexually active, you can get an STI even if you practice safe sex most of the time.
There are many different STIs and not all of them have obvious symptoms, so there’s a chance that you or your partner could have an STI without knowing it.
Most STIs are curable and all are treatable. But if left untreated, STIs can have long-term effects on your body.
Here are the big ones you should know about.
Chlamydia is often called the ‘silent infection’ because most people don’t realise they have it.
If left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can lead to chronic pain and infertility.
In men, untreated chlamydia can cause pain and swelling in the testicles.
Chlamydia may be treated with a single dose of antibiotics if detected early.
Syphilis is curable but, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications. A simple blood test can detect syphilis.
If you’re infected with syphilis and don’t seek treatment, you can remain infectious for up to two years.
Women can pass syphilis infection to their babies during pregnancy. This can cause miscarriage, serious birth defects in the baby or even stillbirth.
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of infection of gonorrhoea. It may occur without symptoms, especially in women.
Gonorrhoea is treatable but can lead to infertility in women if left untreated.
With all STIs, it’s important to let your sexual partner or partners know that you have an infection so that they can be tested and treated too.
Genital herpes can be spread by vaginal, oral or anal sex and through skin-to-skin contact. Recurrences of genital herpes usually become less frequent and less painful over time.
There is no cure for herpes, but treatment helps ease symptoms and prevent recurrences.
Women diagnosed with genital herpes before or during pregnancy should discuss this with their GP.
Genital warts are one of the most common STIs. They’re caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
There are more than 100 strains of HPV, but only certain types affect the genitals and not all cause visible warts.
Genital warts can appear around the genitals and anus or, sometimes, inside the vagina, rectum or urethra.
This is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation. It’s transmitted through contaminated blood and other body fluids.
Hepatitis B can be prevented by immunisation. This provides very good protection (about 95 per cent effective) and is recommended for all infants, young children and adolescents, and people in high-risk groups.
Untreated hepatitis B can stay in the body for a long time and lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer and death.
Most people with hepatitis B in Australia became infected at birth or during their early childhood in countries overseas.
Hepatitis B may be spread through unsafe sex or sharing injecting equipment.
HIV is a virus that can weaken the immune system to the point that it’s unable to control some infections.
Most people living with HIV in Australia can expect to live long, healthy lives without ever developing AIDS (the most advanced stage of HIV infection), if they’re on effective treatment.
For those at higher risk of HIV, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a medication that, when taken as prescribed, is up to 99% effective at preventing the virus.
How do I protect myself from STIs?
Condoms are the easiest, and most effective way, to protect yourself from most STIs.
It’s important to note though that condoms, even when used correctly, don’t guarantee 100 per cent protection against STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
Sex using a condom may still spread an infection if the condom doesn’t fully cover the infected area. Also, a condom may break, particularly if it hasn’t been stored properly or the right lubricant hasn’t been used.
You can check out this page for tips on safe sex.
Book in for an STI test in Pascoe Vale
If you’re sexually active, it’s important to get an STI test at least once a year.
Make an appointment straight away if you notice symptoms after having sex without a condom or dental dam, if the condom broke or slipped off during sex, or when you start a new relationship.
In most cases, a simple blood or urine sample is all that’s needed.
Note: This information is of a general nature only and should not be substituted for medical advice. It does not replace consultations with qualified healthcare professionals to meet your individual medical needs. Page last updated 30 March 2022.