As you’re counting down the days to Christmas and making a list and checking it twice, it’s important to include safer sex when you’re being naughty and nice! The holidays offer a great time to cuddle! The weather is cold, the mood is festive and you’re in the spirit of giving gifts! But before you decided to get a “elfish” under the mistletoe and share your “milk and cookies” with Santa, make sure you protect yourself so you don’t end up with a stocking stuffer that you don’t want.
- Chlamydia. Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs. Because symptoms of chlamydia are not always apparent, it is not easy to tell if an individual is infected with chlamydia—when they do occur, they are usually noticeable within one to three weeks of contact and can include the following: abnormal vaginal discharge that may have an odor, bleeding between periods, painful periods, abdominal pain with fever and pain when having sex, itching or burning in or around the vagina, pain when urinating. In men, it can also cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating. They may also suffer a white, cloudy or watery discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles. Treatment of chlamydia involves antibiotics.
- Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea, which is caused by a bacterium, is one of the oldest known sexually transmitted diseases. Not everyone has symptoms, with half of women and ten percent of men not. In women, it may cause pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a yellowish vaginal discharge and pain in the lower abdomen during or after sex. Additionally, there may be bleeding during or after sex or between periods, and it may sometimes cause heavy periods. Men, on the other hand, tend to experience pain or a burning sensation when urinating, a white, yellow or green discharge from the tip of the penis, and pain or tenderness in the testicles. In the past, the treatment of uncomplicated gonorrhea was fairly simple. A single injection of penicillin cured almost every infected person. Unfortunately, there are new strains of gonorrhea that have become resistant to various antibiotics,
- Herpes. Genital herpes, also commonly called “herpes,” is a viral infection by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that is transmitted through intimate contact with the mucous-covered linings of the mouth or the vagina or the genital skin. In the United States, about one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. Two types of herpes viruses are associated with genital lesions: herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 more often causes blisters of the mouth area while HSV-2 more often causes genital sores or lesions in the area around the anus. Genital herpes is spread only by direct person-to-person contact. Once exposed to the virus, an incubation period generally lasts three to seven days before a lesion develops. Although there is no known cure for herpes, there are treatments for the outbreaks. Treatments can be oral medications or topical medications which are applied directly on the lesions.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is now considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in the US, and it is believed that at a majority of the reproductive-age population has been infected with sexually transmitted HPV at some point in life. There are more than 40 different types of HPV—types that are transmitted through direct sexual contact, and types that are passed from the skin and mucous membranes of infected people to the skin and mucous membranes of their partners. Some sexually transmitted HPV types may cause genital warts. There is currently no cure for HPV. Currently, there are three vaccines approved to help prevent certain strains of HPV infection. These vaccines provide strong protection against new HPV infections. HPV vaccinations given before sexual activity can reduce the risk of infection by the HPV types targeted by the vaccine. However, they are not effective at treating established HPV infections or disease caused by HPV.
- Syphilis. Syphilis is an STD that has been around for centuries. It is caused by a bacterial organism called a spirochete. The spirochete is a wormlike, spiral-shaped organism that wiggles vigorously when viewed under a microscope. It infects the person by burrowing into the moist, mucous-covered lining of the mouth or genitals. Symptoms in adults are divided into stages. These stages are primary, secondary, latent, and late syphilis. Syphilis has been called ‘the great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases. Depending on the stage, symptoms of syphilis can range from a painless sore to a rash to difficulty coordinating your muscle movements, paralysis (unable to move parts of your body), numbness, blindness, and dementia (mental disorder). In the late stages of syphilis, the disease damages your internal organs and can result in death. Depending on the stage of disease, the treatment options for syphilis vary.
- HIV. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, which is our body’s natural defense against illness. When HIV enters the body, it invades the white bloods cell, weakening their ability to fight the infection, by making “copies” or replicating viral particles inside the white blood cell. Depending on the stage of HIV infection, an individual may experience mild flu-like symptoms or life-threatening symptoms such as rare forms of cancer or pneumonia. HIV is transmitted by coming in contact with blood, semen, vagina fluid or breast milk of a person that is infected with HIV. The speed HIV progresses will vary depending on a variety of factors including: age, health, access to medical care, whether or not an individual is receiving treatment, etc. There is no cure for HIV. But with proper medical care, treatment and medication adherence, HIV can be controlled.
Here are some help ways to keep yourself safer this holiday season:
- Get tested together! Knowing your HIV and STI status helps to reduce risk of infection.
- Wrap up your package! Use protection like male or female condoms or dental dams.
- Avoid overindulging in substance. Don’t drink too much holiday punch or spiced eggnog. Substance impair our ability to think clearly and make safer choices.
- Ask your partner questions about their sexual history, including if she or he has ever been tested or practiced safer sex.
- Hold up on your gift giving. Reduce the number of partners your having sex with. Remember everyone doesn’t deserve your gift!
- Change up the type of sex your having. Anal sex is the riskiest type of sex followed by vaginal then oral.
- Keep the Christmas tree lights on. Explore your partners genitals for any unusual ornaments.
- Don’t forget the lube. The wetter the better. Lubricant helps to reduce friction and helps to prevent the condom from breaking.
So, as you tis the season to be jolly and ho, ho, ho, make sure you consider the above-mentioned ways to help keep yourself safer this year! You wouldn’t want to ring in the new year at the physician’s office getting treated for an irritating itch, annoying drip or a viral gift that keeps on giving.