Pulling the covers off sexual health: the STI guide you didn’t know you needed

Medically reviewed by Emma Dion, PharmD on September 16, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Picture this. You had unprotected sex a few nights ago, and you’re worried about having contracted an STI (sexually transmitted infection). It happens! So, you open a browser in incognito mode and scour the internet for answers.

Little did you know sexually transmitted infections are actually more common than you think, but hardly anyone ever talks about them—so there’s a huge misconception around what they are, how they’re contracted, and how they’re treated.

Well, the days of shame and incognito mode are over!

Yes, you heard that right. We’re pulling the covers off sexual health with this handy STI toolkit. Whether you skipped sex ed in high school or can’t remember anything you learned in it, we’ve got you covered. No shame. No judgment. Just facts.

Trust us; you’re going to want to bookmark this page. And share it with friends. And maybe even tweet about it.

Sex ed is back in session. Let’s get to stripping (the facts, that is).

First, the big picture:

  • Sex is healthy and natural. Your sex life is unique and personal to you, and you should never feel shame or confusion when it comes to your sexual health.
  • STIs are common and are nothing to be ashamed of. According to the CDC, there are 20 million new sexually transmitted infections every year. This may be an underestimate as many people with STIs do not show symptoms and get tested. One half of these newly reported STIs are in young people ages 15-24 and it is estimated that by age 25, one of two sexually active youth will acquire an STI.
  • Getting tested for an STI is easy and no big deal. Plus, many STIs are treatable, and all STIs are manageable.
  • It’s important to let your partner(s) know if you have an STI. If you found out after you’ve already had sex, tell them as soon as possible so they can get tested.
  • Every case is different, and although friendly advice from Reddit user “sexpert69” may seem comforting, you should always consult a healthcare provider around the diagnosis and treatment of STIs.

Now to the details.

What is an STI/STD?

STIs or sexually transmitted infections are infections that are transferred between partners during vaginal, oral, or anal sex. The commonly known acronym “STD” refers to sexually transmitted diseases. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, it’s important to note that not all infections develop into diseases.

If you’re curious about the different types of STIs that women and men can get, check out that link to our blog.

Are all STIs contagious?

STIs can be transmitted any time you have sex. STIs don’t always cause symptoms or may only cause mild symptoms, so it is possible to have an infection and not know it. Complications of untreated STIs can include pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy complications, infertility, chronic pelvic pain, neurological, and cardiovascular diseases.

How can I prevent contracting an STI?

Abstinence is the most reliable way to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted disease. But naturally, sex is a big part of many people’s lives, so here’s the realistic answer: STIs can’t be entirely prevented in sexually active people, but you can reduce the risk of getting one with these methods:

  • Condoms - Male latex and polyurethane condoms are highly effective in reducing STI transmission if you use one every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. While the effectiveness of other synthetic male condoms is not yet known, natural membrane condoms—also known as lambskin condoms—are not recommended for the prevention of STIs.
  • Vaccinations - Pre-exposure vaccination is one of the most effective methods of preventing transmission of hepatitis B and HPV. You should consult with your healthcare provider to determine if it is recommended for you to get these vaccinations.
  • Mutual monogamy - According to the CDC, long-term, mutually monogamous relationships are one of the most reliable ways to prevent STIs. Have open and honest communication with your partner about your sexual health statuses, and discuss whether you’re both committed to exclusively having sex with each other.
  • Reducing your number of partners - Reducing your number of sex partners can decrease your risk of contracting an STI. You and your partners should still get tested and share your results with one another.
  • Getting tested and treated as soon as possible - Some STIs, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause serious health problems if left untreated, so it’s recommended to seek out treatment from a professional health physician as soon as possible. (Related: Chlamydia test for men and women)

How do I know if I have an STI?

Because many STIs don’t show symptoms or only cause mild symptoms, the only way to really know is by getting tested.

How can I get tested for STIs?

At Everlywell we know all too well how expensive and inconvenient STI testing can be, so we offer easier solutions with our at-home STI collection kits. Men and women can simultaneously check for 6 different sexually transmitted infections and diseases, or check their status through single markers from the privacy of your home (or anywhere, really). Get your digital results within days, and if positive results are detected, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with our independent physician network and may receive treatment.

How soon after unprotected sex should I get tested for STIs?

The time between when you may have been exposed to an STI and when your body shows signs of infection can vary. Ask your doctor about your testing options after you’ve had unprotected sex and get tested as soon as you experience symptoms.

How often should I get tested for STIs?

The frequency of necessary STI testing varies based on how sexually active you are and if you’re currently outside of a monogamous relationship. The CDC recommends every 3-12 months depending on risk category, but most medical professionals would agree that a yearly STI test is the minimum responsible frequency and testing should be done more if—and when—you engage in unprotected sex with a new partner.

Our new membership Current is perfect if you’re looking for an affordable and convenient way to check for STIs on a regular basis. For just $14.99 a month, you can select 1 test of your choice per month! Learn more about the Current Membership in this blog post.

Should I use the internet to self-diagnose?

No, you should not. No more self-diagnosing on Reddit or exclusively consulting with Dr. Google, please. The internet is a good place for research and to start seeking out information about your sexual health (that’s probably how you got here in the first place), but you should always consult with a healthcare professional for a diagnosis and possible treatment plan, if applicable. Everyone is different and the only way to know what may be right for you is by asking a professional.

Should I notify my recent partners if I tested positive for an STI?

Yes. If you test positive and are diagnosed with an STI by a healthcare provider, you should notify current and recent partners. Here’s a helpful guide to help you navigate that conversation—we recommend practicing with a friend beforehand.

If you don’t feel safe or comfortable telling your partner directly, anonymous texting services like TellYourPartner.org and STDcheck.com allow you to text or email them without disclosing your identity. (Keep in mind that if your partner has only had sex with you, they will likely know it’s from you.)

Everlywell is on a mission to destigmatize STIs, educate about sexual health, and encourage a healthy sex life. Sexuality is natural, beautiful, and everything in between. Whether you’re yelling details about your sex life from a rooftop or don’t talk about it to anyone, staying on top of your sexual health is vital to your overall well-being.

Helpful Resources and Tools:


References

1. Cates JR, Herndon NL, Schulz S L, Darroch JE. (2004). Our voices, our lives, our futures: Youth and sexually transmitted diseases. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

2. Satterwhite CL, Torrone E, Meites E, et al. Sexually transmitted infections among US women and men: prevalence and incidence estimates, 2008. Sex Transm Dis. 2013;40(3):187-193

3. How To Prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases. CDC. URL.

4. Screening Recommendations and Considerations Referenced in Treatment Guidelines and Original Sources. CDC. URL.

5. Vaccinating Boys and Girls. CDC. URL.

6. Adolescents and Young Adults. CDC. URL.

7. Condom Effectiveness. CDC. URL.

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