Safe sex: A guide on sexually transmitted diseases

Are you worried about your sexual health? For international students who are both sexually inexperienced and experienced, STDs and STIs can still be a mystery. Most of us are not told where to get checked or how to get treatment. As part of the SEXtember issue for 2018, here is a guide to help you understand more about your sexual health options.

First things first: Are STI and STDs all the same?

You may hear these abbreviations often before engaging in sex, but they seem like different words with the same meaning. You’re not completely wrong, but a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) differs from Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) in terms of their development.

According to BeforePlay, a sexually transmitted Infection occurs when a virus or a bacteria enters your body through sexual contact with an infected partner. The virus or bacteria then lays dormant in your body so sometimes, seeming healthy isn’t a good guarantee.

A sexually transmitted disease occurs when you start to develop an illness because of the infection. For example, if you develop a rash, an itch or feel pain different areas of your body chances are you are due for a doctor’s check.

Busting the Myths

As long as you use contraception, you’re safe

Condoms are the safest form of contraception when it comes to preventing STDs. It is 98 per cent effective in preventing pregnancies and latex condoms are highly effective in protecting against STDs, especially HIV.

Other than condoms, all other types of contraception protects you from unwanted pregnancies but can not protect you from STDs. For example, birth control pills are not a form of contraception that can help you avoid being infected.

Contraceptives only work when you use them properly. Knowing how to correctly apply contraception can go a long way in a healthy, and safe sex life. The Centre of Disease Control has a guide on how to effectively use condoms, and if you want to know more about different forms contraception, check out Meld’s guide on contraception.

STIs are forever

Some sexually transmitted infections can be cured, while others are for life.

Bacterial infections like Chlamydia and Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics but viral infections such as Herpes and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can not be cured.

Treatments for viral infection help suppress symptoms and reduce the risk of infection to other people. You can get more information about treatments at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute website or visit the nearest sexual health clinic. On-campus clinics or health counselors will also be able to aid you.

STIs are airborne

STI/STDs can not be transmitted through the air. Contrary to popular belief, the virus and bacteria are unable to survive outside the surface of the skin and thus, it is impossible for you to become infected just by being around someone who is. They are mostly transferred by skin to skin contact by your genitals of bodily fluids.

HIV/AIDS only affects gay individuals

This is catastrophically false. While HIV Statistics reveals that the majority of Australian HIV/AIDS contractors are homosexual men, 21% of the total cases happened with heterosexual sex.

You can still get HIV/AIDS no matter your sexuality, so there is no reason to be reckless when having sex.

There is no need to get tested if there are no signs of disease

As mentioned above, STDs can stay dormant in the body for a long time. Just because you or your partner seem fine does not mean both of you are in the clear.

How often should I get tested?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting tested for sexual disease at least once a year for all sexually active individuals but couples where one partner has contracted an STD should screen more often – every 3 months. To get the most reliable results, some of the tests require a longer time period so going early helps!

If you recently had unprotected sex, or feel any symptoms that may come from a past sexual encounter, you should contact a healthcare professional straight away.

What are my options as an overseas student?

Getting an STI/STD test can be nerve-wracking, and you may be worried about expenses. But it is important to check as early as possible, especially if you have recently had unprotected sex.

Try not to self-diagnose, as you might miss important details about your condition. If you want to know more information about your sexual health, here are some people that you can  contact:

  • Your General Practitioner (GP)
  • Your school Sexual Health Service
  • Your Overseas Student Health Care (OSHC) provider
  • You area’s sexual health clinics

Fortunately, there are government supported clinics around Australia that offer STI/STD  testing. A quick google search using ‘sexual health clinic’ will reveal the one closest to your location.  If you live in one of the major cities in Australia, consider these sexual health clinics:

Most of these clinics offer sexual health consultations and free STI testing. They will ask you about your information sexual activity in the past (don’t worry, they are kept confidential) and will conduct a test appropriately. If the test proves positive for an STI, you will be provided with a treatment and further consultation. If you test positive for HIV, you can opt to be directed to a specialist.

If you decided to go get tested, it is highly recommended that you go as early as possible, because the clinic receives a lot of patients every day, and some clinics have limited screenings available.

What about my Insurance?

If you prefer not to contact the clinics listed above, you can also screen for STI from your general practitioner. You won’t have to wait in line for tests, and you can get a better consultation from a doctor that already knows you.

Extra fees would be applied for blood tests and prescription medicines. Your Overseas Student Health (OSHC) may only cover a percentage of the cost, so you might have to spend money out-of-pocket. Contact your OSHC provider to find out more about your cover.

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