By Yanran Lu
According to the Center for Disease Control, an STD, or sexually transmitted disease, is “any disease that can be transmitted through physical intimacy, including kissing, oral sex, or any type of genital contact” whether by same or opposite sex. Most people understand very little about STDs, partly because it has to do with the “taboo” topic of sex. What some people don’t realize is that STDs are common and many people who get STDs never display any symptoms. Therefore, you cannot tell if someone has an STD just by looking at them, or tell if you have an STD just by looking at yourself. So it is important to understand STDs and get tested.
The pictures of STDs we look at are usually extremely grotesque. So, here I will give you some STD 101–without pictures. Remember, the Web has many great resources to learn about these, e.g., the CDC.
There are two classes of STDs, bacterial and viral. The bacterial infections include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, etc. These are easily tested and treated. Viral infections, such as herpes, HIV, or HPV (human papillomavirus) are a bit more difficult because they are not curable, but can be managed.
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia are similar in that they both cause inflammation of the penis or cervix (they can also be latent, or without symptoms). They are passed through vaginal, anal, oral sex or childbirth.
Syphilis is called “the great imitator” because some of its symptoms look like those of other infections. It is transmitted through direct contact with a syphilis sore, which is mainly found in the external genitals or mouth (much like the transmission of herpes).
Herpes is caused by herpes simplex viruses types 1 and 2. Most herpes do not display symptoms; and when they do occur, they appear as one or more blisters on genitals, rectum or lips. The infection stays in the body indefinitely although outbreaks tend to decrease over the years.
HPV is generally associated with genital warts and can lead to cancer of the cervix, the penis, the anus, etc. It is the most common sexually transmitted virus (through genital contact–even with condoms) and has 40 types.
HIV causes AIDS and is transmitted by blood or sex (bodily fluids). The risk for HIV increases 2-5 times with the presence of another STD.
Therefore, it is important to practice safe sex. Using a condom can protect against certain types of STDs including gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV and trichomonas. Condoms can’t protect against diseases that are spread outside the area that a condom covers, such as herpes, syphilis or genital warts. Condoms should be used in all types of sex including anal and oral. In addition to condoms, it is important to get tested for STDs periodically (in fact at least every year and/or before a new sex partner). It is also important to be able to talk openly about sex with your partner. It can be awkward, but it must be done for the sake of both individuals’ health.
Some people think that they are not at risk for STDs because they only have one partner. However, that is not true–everyone who is sexually active is at risk (some STDs are also transmitted through sharing of needles or by birth, so more people are at risk). Some people choose to remain ignorant and feel what they don’t know can’t hurt them. However, sometimes what you don’t know can be deadly. For example, you can get chlamydia and not know it; leaving it untreated can make you (if you’re a woman) infertile (the bacteria can spread to your fallopian tubes or uterus). It is much better to know if you have an STD and start to get treatment for it than to ignore it all together. As previously mentioned, most STDs are treatable and/or manageable.
There is no reason not to get tested. Particularly when Stanford offers free STD screening at Vaden. You can choose either confidential or anonymous testing. Each has its own advantages, and you can try both if you want.
The confidential testing is more comprehensive. You can schedule an appointment through Vaden and see an M.D. or N.P. The appointment is only 20 minutes long, during which you can discuss any concerns you have with your doctor and determine which STDs you want to test for. There are three types of testing, blood, urine and pap (women). The urine test detects gonorrhea and chlamydia, the blood test screens for things such as HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis and, for women, the pap test checks for HPV. The blood test can also be used to check for herpes and hepatitis C, but is not commonly performed.
You can also choose anonymous testing with HIV-Pact. With an anonymous name, you make two, one-hour appointments at the same exact time for two consecutive weeks with the same peer sexual health counselor, who is usually a trained student. The HIV-PACT offers blood or saliva tests for HIV and sexual health counseling.
Get tested and use condoms, so you can make love and stay healthy.
Contact Yanran at firstname.lastname@example.org.