Real talk: Fear of judgment and rejection prevents people from talking about STIs.
But that doesn’t stop people from sharing them.
This is where you can find out everything about STIs, from symptoms, to treatment, to prevention methods.
What are STIs?
People catch infections – like colds or flus – all the time. These are usually caught through casual contact with friends, family members, or people at work. Infections transmitted through sexual contact are called ‘sexually transmitted infections,’ or STIs.
Sexually transmitted infections used to be called sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The name has changed because diseases always have symptoms (changes to your body that you will notice), whereas infections do not need to have symptoms – and STIs often don’t cause symptoms.
The truth is, anyone can get an STI, and 15 to 24 year olds are the fastest growing group of people getting STIs. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have one, and it’s easier than you think to pass it on to someone. Some are spread through the transfer of fluids (blood, semen, vaginal fluids) that happens during sexual activity, and others are spread simply by touching an infected area.
Most STIs can be cured and all can be treated to ease symptoms.
We all take risks. It’s up to us to decide just how risky we want to be. If you decide you want to have sex with a partner, it’s possible to give or get an STI. When you have ‘safer sex,’ it means that you’re cutting down your chances of getting or giving an STI.
If you’re sexually active, the best way to stop spreading an infection is by putting some kind of barrier between you and your partner. You can use male condoms, female condoms, and dental dams to protect yourself. (See the Condoms page for more information)
Before you start a new sexual relationship, you and your partner should get tested for STIs. Because STIs don’t always cause symptoms, you or your partner could be carrying an infection from a past relationship and not even know it. For more information on testing, see the Testing page.
Finally, by knowing your partner and their sexual history before you start having sex, you can have a general idea as to how risky your sexual activity may be. You can also talk with your partner about ways to be sexually intimate that do not involve the risk of transmitting an infection.
Common STIs and their symptoms
To learn more about specific STIs, click on one of the links below and information will pop up.
Bacterial STIs can be cured with antibiotics. If left untreated, though, some bacterial STIs can cause a serious condition called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), a long-term and serious infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and/or ovaries, which can cause infertility (not being able to get pregnant). In Canada, 75% of PID cases occur among those aged 25 years and younger.
Viral STIs cannot be cured by medication. Medication can only slow them down. Viral infections can either be killed off by the body’s immune system (e.g. certain cases of hepatitis) or they may continue to live within the body (e.g. herpes). Some can be prevented by immunization/shots (e.g. hepatitis B, HPV).
Parasitic STIs are small organisms that can be killed off with anti-parasitic medications.
Fungal STIs can be cured with anti-fungals.
There’s nothing wrong with getting tested or asking your partner to get tested. Because STIs are often hard to detect, you might think that you don’t have one when really you do. Testing can protect your partner from getting an STI, and getting tested and treated early can also increase the chances you’ll be able to get rid of it.
For information on getting tested, see our Testing page.
What do I do if I caught an STI?
Many people feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty when they discover they have an STI. The phrase ‘sexually transmitted’ can make people feel uncomfortable and this makes it hard to talk about STIs. Humans are sexual beings and sexually transmitted infections are in many ways the same as infections anywhere else – you get them from contact with other people.
If you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, what happens next will depend on what infection(s) you have. You can click on specific STIs (above) for more information on how they’re treated.
If you’d like to hear stories from other people who’ve been diagnosed with an STI, you can take a look at this free booklet: STIgma zine. A youth agency called Head and Hands asked people to tell their stories. You can read how other people coped, how they take care of their bodies, and how the conversations went when they told their partners. If you want more advice on telling your partner, you can also check out this local pamphlet.