8 Things You’ve Heard About STDs That Are Totally Untrue
By Moira Lawler; Photography by Pixabay
STDs are a real threat to young women – and they’re on the rise.
The most recent report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention found that cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis have increased for the first time since 2006, and they’re affecting young women the most seriously. Let’s break down what’s true and what’s definitely not when it comes to STDs.
Myth: Once You’ve Had an STD, You Can’t Get the Same One Again
Reality: STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis are bacterial infections, and “once you’re cured of those, you can absolutely be re-infected,” says Fred Wyand, director of communications for the American Sexual Health Association, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting sexual health. It’s especially common with gonorrhoea and chlamydia.Researchers from the Netherlands found 20.4 percent of women with chlamydia were re-infected when tested again five to eight months later.
Myth: You Can’t Get STDs from Oral Sex
Reality: “In general, most of the STDs we talk about don’t do their thing quite as well in the mouth as well as they do in the genital or anal area,” says Wyand. Even though oral sex is safer sex, it’s not risk-free, and vag contact is not a requirement to become infected. Gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chlamydia, to a lesser extent, can all be passed orally.
Myth: You Can’t Have Two STDs at Once
Reality: Having two STDs at once – called co-infection – is extremely possible. “Actually, having one STD may increase the susceptibility to another,” says Wyand. Take herpes, for example. An outbreak can act as a breeding ground for HIV if your partner has it. Being infected with other STDs also increases your risk of developing HIV. One study found that Florida women between the ages of 13 and 59 with STDs were diagnosed with HIV at 10 times the rate of the average American women.
Myth: If You Don’t Have Any Symptoms, You’re STD-Free
Reality: “It is very common for any STD to not have apparent symptoms,” says Wyand. Chlamydia, in particular, is known as a silent infection since it’s light on warning signs. “Women can go much longer with chlamydia without seeing or feeling anything atypical,” says Wyand. In fact, a study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases found that 63 percent of cervical chlamydia cases and 54 percent of gonorrhoea cases were symptom-free.
Myth: You Can Only Catch Herpes During an Outbreak
Reality: From sores around the genital area to cold sores around the mouth, it’s easy to see why so many people think they can spot a herpes infection from a mile away. It’s not so simple, though. Even if there are no sores in sight, the infection could be lurking beneath the surface. “The virus can and does become active even if you don’t see anything,” says Wyand. Still, that doesn’t mean herpes will automatically be transferred to a partner. Many couples are able to keep their sex lives active without the unaffected partner ever acquiring it, so long as they’re open to using condoms and having honest discussions, says Wyand.
READ MORE: What’s The Difference Between STDs And STIs?
Myth: A Pap Smear Tests for STDs
Reality: Many women assume (incorrectly) that a yearly visit to the ob-gyn is all it takes to make sure everything down there is A-OK. A pap smear tests the cells in your cervix for cancer, but doesn’t take STDs into account. To cover yourself, ask your gyno to tack on an STD test at your next visit. That might call for a blood or urine sample, or another swab test.
Myth: The Pill Protects You from STDs
Reality: The Pill’s main job is to keep you baby-free, not STD-free. Condoms are the only birth control method that acts as protection against STDs.
Myth: Only Women with Many Partners Have STDs
Reality: No slut-shaming here. While it’s true that the more partners you have, the more you’ll be exposed to infections, STDs rear their ugly heads even in monogamous relationships. Each party brings their own sexual history to the bedroom – and sometimes that history involves an STD. “Even in a monogamous relationship, if either one of the partners has had previous partners, there could be an STD from many years ago that they’re not even aware of that can still be transmitted,” says Wyand. Truth is, most sexually active people will have an STD at some point, so it shouldn’t be shameful. “More and more we’re saying, ‘Do you know what it means to have an STD?’” says Wyand. “It means you’re pretty normal.”
Looking for more info on STDs and STIs? Here are seven things you should know about genital warts.