April is STD Awareness Month
Sex is always a popular topic online, but sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Not as much.
That said, a quick Google search on “STDs” makes it clear that people have LOTS of questions about sexually transmitted diseases and are looking for answers. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) devotes the entire month of April to STD awareness every year. If you’re sexually active and have questions about STDs, the CDC website is a great resource. On it you can find the latest information about the most common STDs as well as recommendations for prevention, testing and treatment. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions with answers from the CDC.
What are STDs?
STDs are diseases that are spread via sexual contact, including oral sex. Viruses, bacteria, fungus and protozoa can cause STDs. There are a few diseases like Zika and Ebola that are usually spread in other ways (e.g., Zika is spread by mosquitoes), but which can also be transmitted from one person to another during sex.
There are dozens of STDs, but here is a list of some that you may have heard of:
- Genital Herpes
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Which STDs are on the rise?
According to a CDC report from last fall, cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all on the rise. 2019 was the fifth straight year of an increase in STDs overall in the United States.
Who’s at risk for contracting an STD?
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting an STD, but some groups are at a higher risk than others. The CDC estimates that 15- to 24-year-olds account for half of all new STD infections. Men who have sex with other men are also at greater risk, as are both men and women who have multiple sexual partners. Anyone who has unprotected sex is unnecessarily putting themselves at risk.
The CDC recommends the following measures to protect yourself from contracting an STD:
- Abstain from all forms of sex.
- Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B and human papilloma virus (HPV).
- Lower your number of sexual partners.
- Practice mutual monogamy with your sexual partner.
- Use condoms (the male latex condom is best for prevention of STDs).
Which tests should I get?
The CDC has clear guidelines for STD testing. Here are the current guidelines directly from the CDC. You can also find a search tool on this page for places to get tested near you.
- All adults and adolescents ages 13 to 64 should be tested at least once for HIV.
- All sexually active women under 25 should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
- Women 25+ with risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, or a sex partner who has an STD, should also be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia every year.
- All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B starting early in pregnancy. At-risk pregnant women should also be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea starting early in pregnancy, and testing should be repeated throughout pregnancy.
- All sexually active gay and bisexual men should be tested at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. Individuals with anonymous partners should be tested more frequently. Sexually active gay and bisexual men may benefit from more frequent HIV testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months).
- Anyone who has unsafe sex or shares injection drug equipment should get tested for HIV at least once a year.
Some STDs are easily treated while others are not. If you test positive for an STD, work with your health care provider and insurance company to find the best options for treatment. One option may be to simply pay out of pocket. With discounts from Optum Perks, you can save on most prescription medications, including many used for STD treatment.
Educate and protect yourself to avoid getting an STD. These infections put you at risk for other serious, long-lasting health problems, and most are easy to avoid with the right form of protection.