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Miss Smut Button's Guide to STIs

People...let’s be unsexy for a moment. Today we’re going to sit down and have an adult conversation about your genitals and their health. Whether you have a vagina, a penis, an asshole, a mouth, all of the above, none or some of the above, or somewhere in between. Your bits and bobs are not immune to the nastiness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Also, if you’re still calling them sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), you’re sooo behind the times. It’s all about the STIs now. A fact which no doubt has made every wedding planners job immensely easier when sending out Save The Date cards.

Now the temptation might be to just swear off sex entirely and not risk it, and right now the asexuals are looking at us nodding because they’ve had the right idea the whole time. But if sex is something that you’re desirous of participating in, do yourself a favour and learn about what you’re risking if you don’t take the right precautions.

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SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS: RANKED FROM AWKWARD TO DEADLY

GONORRHEA A.K.A THE CLAP

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How will I know if I have it

The Clap is a bacterial infection and like many STIs can be asymptomatic. Vagina owners may experience bleeding when it’s not time for their period. Penis owners may experience swollen testicles or arthritis (inflammation of the joints), genital discharge of various colours and a burning or painful sensation when peeing.

How did I catch it

Fluid exchange; which means any sharing of fluids with an infected person.

What do I do once I have it

If you suspect you have it, go to your nearest Sexual Health clinic and they will perform a swab test or a urine sample (don’t put off being tested for fear of the urethra swab, you’ll be able to pee in a cup).

Once you’ve been diagnosed you’ll be given a course of antibiotics. I shouldn’t need to tell you that you MUST take all of your antibiotics. You won’t be able to have sex for a while during and after treatment, it’s worth discussing with your doctor when you’ll be able to recommence the fuckery. Once you’ve finished your antibiotics you will be re-tested to make sure you’re all clear. Your doctor may offer you treatment for your partner, and access to an anonymous notification service for previous partners. Keep in mind you CAN be reinfected, so whatever you did to catch it in the first place...try not to do it again you silly sausage!

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What happens if I don’t treat it

If you don’t treat it, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease for vagina owners. Penis owners could find themselves infertile, but will experience a large amount of discomfort in the meantime. And regardless of what junk you have, leaving it untreated can increase the possibility of contracting other STIs.  

How can I prevent it

You’re going to get sick of hearing this by the end, but use protection (condoms, dental dams, femidoms, etc). If you’re sexually active with more than one partner or your partners have more than one partner, you should all be having regular STI screenings. There’s nothing wrong with having regular sexual health check ups, because remember with great genitals comes great responsibility. And let’s be honest, prevention is a lot less embarrassing and painful than finding treatment or a cure.

 

CHLAMYDIA (A.K.A THE KOALA-KILLER)

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How will I know if I have it

Despite it being literally the most common STI Chlamydia, is a bit of a ninja infection. A lot of people who have it may not realise they do, because they’re asymptomatic. The people who are symptomatic will find the symptoms similar to those of Gonorrhea in all the ways that matter. Penis owners may experience an itchy urethra, sore ballsacks and pain when they ejaculate. Vagina owners will enjoy abnormal bleeding and discharge as well as burning when peeing, pelvic and lower abdominal discomfort, pain during sexy times and vaginal itching. Yay!

How did I catch it

Fluid exchange.

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What do I do once I have it

If you have any of the symptoms, or even if you’ve been having unprotected sex recently, you should go to your friendly neighbourhood sexual health clinic. As with Gonorrhea, they’ll do a swab or urine test to check.

If you do have it you’ll be given a course of antibiotics.

What happens if I don’t treat it

If you leave it untreated, it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) for vagina owners.PID is when the infection spreads from the vagina to the cervix, the endometrium (lining of the uterus) and the fallopian tubes. From there you can look forward to abdominal pain, pain during sex, fever and funky discharge.

How can I prevent it

Use barrier protection.  

 

HERPES SIMPLEX VIRUS (A.K.A HERPES)

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How will I know if I have it

There’s two types of HSV and both virus types can cause genital herpes but with different outcomes.

With both types, if you’re symptomatic you might experience tingling, itching, redness and nerve pain before an outbreak.

During an outbreak you might experience a rash, sores, chafing and cracked skin.

HSV-1 - 85% of the population has it. This guy causes oral cold sores. It can cause genital infection when someone with the cold sore virus (whether symptomatic or not) performs oral sex on someone (who hasn’t had any exposure to HSV-1). Initial genital HSV-1 infection may be quite painful, but recurrences and infection when someone is asymptomatic occur much less frequently than with genital HSV-2.

HSV-2 - 20% of the population has it. It’s associated with frequent symptomatic outbreaks as well as atypical and asymptomatic infection and a risk of transmission to sexual partners.  Most people with genital HSV-2 will, at some time, require treatment with antiviral medications for control of recurrences or relief from symptoms. It’s really, really rare for you to contract this type orally and cold sores are pretty much exclusively caused by by HSV-1.

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How did I catch it

Unlike many STIs, fluids aren’t needed to contract this one. Close skin to skin contact with someone who is infected is enough to pass it along.

What do I do once I have it

If you think you have herpes, make an appointment with your GP or local sexual health clinic. A swab is taken from the ulcer, skin split or itchy spot and sent to a laboratory for virus detection.  This is the most accurate method of diagnosing herpes and also detects whether the infecting virus is HSV-1 or HSV-2. Many clinics will use blood tests to screen, but if possible try and request the swab since herpes blood tests are notorious for returning both false negatives and false positives.

If it’s confirmed that you have contracted herpes, there’s no known cure. Your doctor will talk to you about ways to manage the virus and prevent infecting others. Contracting herpes is not the end of the world, in fact it’s not even the end of your sex life. It just requires a bit of extra safety and awareness.

What happens if I don’t treat it

Mainly pain and discomfort. Most treatments for herpes are focused on minimising the duration and severity of the symptoms.

How can I prevent it

Use protection. Avoid sexual contact with anyone who is symptomatic. Many people who carry the Herpes virus are asymptomatic, so always ask your partner’s history before having sex.

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HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS (A.K.A HPV, GENITAL WARTS)

How will I know if I have it

There are tons of different kinds of HPV, and around 4 in 5 Australians will contract it at some point in their life. About 40 types of HPV target the genital and anal area. Despite it being one of the most common STIs, most infections are asymptomatic. This is great in the sense that you might not be suffering, but super shit if you’re having unprotected sex with a heap of people, since it means you’re spreading it around. Your best bet is to get tested regularly.

If you are symptomatic, you’ll notice warts on your genital and/or anal area. Hot, right? Although sometimes the warts only appear internally for vagina owners, in which case your GP will pick them up during your pap smear. Which you have regularly. Because you are a responsible adult.

How did I catch it

Close skin to skin contact with someone who is infected.

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What do I do once I have it

There’s no cure for it, so you basically have to wait it out until your body fights off the worst of the infection and you’re no longer symptomatic. You can have the warts and/or cells on the cervix removed though as a means of minimising discomfort. But if you’ve ever had a wart removed from a hand or foot, you’re already imagining how much worse it’s going to be in or on your fun bits.

What happens if I don’t treat it

Cancer. Yeah, for real, this is one nasty STI. There are 4 types that turn into cancer and all of them are now screened for during pap smears.

If you contract one of the many types that isn’t known for causing cancer, you can look forward to some sexy warts on your junk for a few years.

How can I prevent it

By getting the HPV vaccination and practicing safe sex. Getting regular STI screenings and pap smears might not prevent the warts, but it’s a good method of early detection for the prevention of cancer.

 

SYPHILIS

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How will I know if I have it

So Syphilis is a complex beast. It has 4 stages.

Stage One - Within around 3 weeks of contamination you’ll develop a sore at the site of the infection. This is usually pretty visible for penis owners, but can be trickier for vagina owners if infection occurred inside the vagina. The sores (often called chancres) aren’t usually painful. You may also get sores at other sites on your body, and you may notice inflamed lymph nodes near the area of the sore.

Here’s the tricky part - the sores will heal on their own within 3-6 weeks. But the infection is still inside your body, which means you’re still passing it on to others.

Stage Two - Between 2 and 12 weeks after the sore develops, you’ll notice a rash developing over your whole body, including your palms and soles. It’s usually reddish-brown, with small sores. The sores might contain pus, or they might be moist sores that look like warts.

The rash usually heals within 2 months without scarring. But as with stage one, even though the obvious symptoms have gone, you are still infected and contagious.

Once syphilis has spread through your body you might experience fevers, sore throat, weakness, weight loss, hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, headaches and irregular pupils.

Stage Three - This is known as the “Latent Stage” because for all intents and purposes it looks like you’re fine. It occurs a year after infection, and can last anywhere from 1 to 20 years. The only way to know for sure if you’re infected at this point, is through a blood test. However you can still have symptomatic relapses periodically through the latent stage. Oh, and if you get pregnant you can pass it on to your baby, have a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

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How did I catch it

Fluid exchange.

What do I do once I have it

The good news is, it’s pretty easy to treat; a course of antibiotics and you’re normally fine. But the antibiotics won’t reverse any damage that the infection has already done, so you know, don’t drag your feet about getting it treated.

What happens if I don’t treat it

Stage Four - Also known as the “Tertiary” or “Late” stage. This is where shit starts to go really downhill. It can start as early as one year after infection, but realistically can happen at any time once infected. You can look forward to blood vessel and heart problems, blindness, nerve system problems, some serious mental disorders, oh and death.

Oh, and in the mean time you can have these fun complications called “gummas” which can cause symptoms similar to leprosy (you know, like having your nose fall off).

How can I prevent it

Use barrier protection.

 

HEPATITIS

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How will I know if I have it

Hepatitis is literally an inflammation of the liver but commonly refers to a number of viral infections causing this inflammation. The three most common strains are A, B and C. During the acute phase of hepatitis (first few weeks after infection), you may not have any symptoms at all.

Once symptoms start you might notice a drop in appetite, a low fever, stomach pains and nausea, fatigue and a super sexy Simpsons-esque skin colouring called jaundice.

How did I catch it

Hepatitis A - Very fucking easily. Basically if someone with Hep A didn’t wash their hands in the bathroom and then handled food, they’ve probably passed it on to everyone who consumed that food. It also spreads through day-care centres where staff aren’t fastidious enough about washing their hands after changing diapers. The sexual act to be most aware of with Hep A is rimming, because it’s transmitted faecally.  

Hepatitis B and C- Fluid exchange (including sharing needles, razors, toothbrushes, etc)

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What do I do once I have it

Hepatitis A - It will go away on it’s own.

Hepatitis B -There is no known cure. Once you’ve been diagnosed with it, your doctor will talk to you about measures you need to take to manage your liver function depending on how much damage has been done.

Hepatitis C - Your doctor will prescribe you a course of drugs known as Direct Acting Anti-Virals (DAAs), DAAs are now able to cure 90% of people with Hep C. Even better, if you’re living in Australia it’s covered under Medicare.

What happens if I don’t treat it

Hepatitis A - This is the chillest version of hepatitis and a lot of people can contract it and not even realise that they have it. It pretty much heals itself without causing any real liver damage.

Hepatitis B - There’s two types; acute and chronic.

If you’ve got acute Hep B you can expect jaundice within 12 weeks, along with all the flu like symptoms mentioned above. However, lots of people who get acute Hep B don’t actually notice that they’re sick and never have any symptoms. But if you’re one of the unlucky ones you can get really sick, really quick and end up with massive liver damage.

Chronic Hep B patients get the same symptoms as the acute patients, and similarly might go for years without realising they’re infected. But they have the fun bonus of being super susceptible to liver cancer.

Hepatitis C - About 25% of people beat the virus after a short term infection. However chronic Hep C can cause liver failure and liver cancer.

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How can I prevent it

Hepatitis A - Wash your fucking hands! And if you’re planning on rimming, use a dental dam.

Hepatitis B - Get vaccinated. Use protection. Keep any and all open cuts, wounds, sores, etc covered up, especially if you work in a place where you’re exposed to other people’s fluids.

Hepatitis C - Use protection. Keep any and all open cuts, wounds, sores, etc covered up, especially if you work in a place where you’re exposed to other people’s fluids.

Because hepatitis can go for so long undetected it is seriously fucking important to get regular blood tests to ensure that you haven’t been infected. If you don’t get tested, you could be asymptomatic for years while it ravages your liver beyond repair. Get tested. For more information, check out the Australian Government website on hepatitis. It’s pretty informative.


HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (A.K.A HIV)

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How will I know if I have it

Soon after infection, some people experience flu-like symptoms such as a fever, headache, tiredness and a rash. Sometimes people start developing symptoms, like tiredness and night sweats, two to seven years after infection. As with so many STIs, many people who are infected are asymptomatic and may not realise they’ve contracted it.

How did I catch it

Fluid exchange.

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What do I do once I have it

If you think you might have it, it’s crucial that you get to your doctor or local sexual health clinic to be tested. A simple blood test will determine whether or not you have it. There’s currently no vaccine or cure for HIV, but people who are HIV-positive can take daily medications which help to manage it and prevent it from progressing to anything more damaging. An exciting development to prevent HIV is PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) which allows people who believe they have recently been in contact with HIV to be treated immediately, and lower the chances of contracting the virus.

With proper management HIV is no longer a death sentence and people who have contracted it can live long, happy, healthy lives.

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What happens if I don’t treat it

If left untreated, HIV can cause AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), a syndrome which occurs when the body's immune system is damaged and cannot fight off infections and cancer.

How can I prevent it

Use protection. Get tested regularly. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxais) isn't available in Australia yet but it allows you to take the medication before sex and increases your safety.


 

So there you have it, dear readers, your introductory guide to STIs. Hopefully your takeaway from all of this is that safe sex is really fucking important, and that you will be renewing your commitment to using protection and getting tested regularly. No one is immune to contracting STIs and with so many of them being sneaky mother-fuckers that don’t present symptoms it’s more important than ever to get screened regularly. 

It's also important to remember that if you contract an STI, or if you know someone who does, it's NOT a reflection on them as a person. For a start, not all STIs are contracted through sex.

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Like any kind of illness, disease, injury, etc our health should not be a moral judgment on us as individuals. If a person makes a decision to not use protection during sex, blaming them for contracting a possibly debilitating disease is no better than asking a rape victim what they were wearing. We're better than that.

Stay safe. 
 

That is all.