Did you know that, on any given day, at least 20% of the population of the United States has a sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or sexually transmitted infection (STI)? That means over 65 million people. And of that number, almost half – 46% – occur in men and women ages 15 to 24. Those are pretty high numbers. If you are sexually active, those numbers should concern you. But what, exactly, are we talking about? Well, let’s start with some basic information.

STDs and STIs refer specifically to those diseases or infections that are transmitted primarily, if not exclusively, through sexual contact. Some people use the terms STD or STI as though they are the same thing, but there is a difference. In the medical field, doctors make a distinction between infections, which can usually be cleared up if treated properly, and diseases, which stay with you permanently. 

In the category of STIs are four ailments caused by bacteria or parasites: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. 

STDs, on the other hand, refer to ailments caused by viruses, including HIV/AIDS, herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2), human papillomavirus (HPV), and hepatitis B (HBV).

Each of these conditions presents serious health risks to the individuals who contract them. The danger presented by these conditions is not only the harm caused by these infections or diseases themselves but that, many times, people who have these conditions are unaware that they have them. This could be because they are asymptomatic, or the symptoms do not show up for a period of time. For people who are sexually active, this means that it is very easy to contract an infection or disease without knowing it, and also to pass on an infection or disease without knowing it. This explains why STIs and STDs are so common.

Risk Factors

For every one of these conditions, there are common risk factors. 

The first, of course, is engaging in sexual activity. Unless you know for sure that your partner is free of any infection or disease, the risk is present. This is especially true for “unprotected” intercourse–that is, intercourse without the use of a latex condom. However, some of these ailments can spread from other types of sexual intimacy, and not just intercourse, so a latex condom is not a failsafe method for preventing infection or disease, particularly if it is used improperly.

The risks of contracting an STI or STD increase if you engage in sexual activities with multiple partners. This risk factor should be obvious; just as you are more likely to contract a cold from sitting in a room full of people versus an empty coffee shop, you are more likely to be exposed to an STI or STD the more people you engage with.

Another risk factor is if you already have an STI or STD. The weaker your immune system is, the more susceptible you are to contracting additional infections or viruses.

Another risk factor is drug use. Like sexual intercourse, drug use often involves the exchange of bodily fluids, often through sharing needles. Drug or alcohol use also impairs your judgment, and you are more likely to engage in sexually risky behavior or be taken advantage of sexually when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If any of these behaviors describe you, you should consider that you may have been exposed to an STI or STD, even if you don’t notice any symptoms. It might be prudent to get tested, just to be sure.

Take Control of Your Health: Prevention, Testing, and Treatment

STIs and STDs are serious business, and they can have lasting impacts on your life, your relationships, and your health. Some of these conditions can be passed down to your offspring, and cause serious health problems for them, as well. When you stop to consider that almost half of the people who contract STIs and STDs are younger than 24 years old, you begin to realize how important it is to pay attention to these risks so that you can protect and preserve your health.

The most surefire way to protect yourself is through abstention from sexual activity. Abstention, or “abstinence”, not only prevents you from getting STIs and STDs, but it removes the worry of having an unplanned pregnancy. At the very least, know what the risk factors are, and try to show good judgment and exercise discretion in how you conduct your sexual life, to avoid the likelihood that you will contract one of these conditions.

If you have engaged in risky behavior, or if you think you may have contracted one of these conditions based on experiencing some of the symptoms typical of STIs or STDs, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. At Choices, we offer low-cost testing for STIs and STDs, so you can find out, for sure, if you have contracted an infection or virus.

Finally, if you do test positive for an STI or STD, seek medical treatment. The sooner you take steps to address your health, the more likely you can avoid serious long-term consequences.

If you would like further information or want to make an appointment to be tested for STIs or STDs, contact Choices today.