As a wee young girl, the only sex ed I received was an overzealous nun telling my class that if we had sex, we would without a doubt get a chlamydia and die. Mean Girls later taught me that that was a line they used on kids everywhere. But back then, I didn’t even know what sex was, let alone chlamydia. Luckily, over time, most of us learned about the former (and didn’t die, mind you), but I’m not so sure I can say the same about the latter.
When the only education we have about STIs is to avoid having sex altogether, it’s really no wonder that most of the country is pretty clueless about this stuff. And if the stats are to be trusted, we really shouldn’t be; as per a study by the WHO, over one million cases of STIs are contracted daily around the world. In India, the most common manifestations of those are HPV, genital herpes, syphilis and chancroid chlamydia (turns out the nun was right). We also have the third largest epidemic of HIV in the world. That’s a lot of gnarly business is people’s knickers, if you ask us.
Now, a lot of phonies and religious zealots might give you a skewed perspective on why that is and how to prevent it, but we’d suggest you listen to the World Health Organization instead (they have a pretty good rep for accuracy, from what we hear). According to them, sexual health is ‘an essential dimension of human health and well-being.’ And that means we have the right to ask as many questions as we need about our sexual health, which includes but isn’t limited to safe sex.
So how do we rollick responsibly and know when something’s wrong?
Read on to know about STD symptoms and how to prevent STD’s:
For starters, ever heard the adage: prevention is better than a gross, wart-inducing bacteria going ballistic on your beaver? Well, the next time your mom sits you down to have the ‘please use protection’ talk, put aside your 50 shades of ‘OMG, AWKS!’ and take her advice. Condoms not only prevent you from becoming a baby-mama before your time, but also protect you from all the icky things you don’t want to catch. (Except feelings. They can’t help with that). Even if you’re in a relationship, your Prince Charming isn’t immune to harming, so condoms should be a non-negotiable part of the act.
Second, treat yo’self! Like, literally. There are vaccines available for preventable STDs like HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which have a staggering 10 million cases per year in India and can lead to cervical cancer. Other than that, check the health under your hood often. STD tests are routine procedures offered at most clinics, and Dr Parulkar suggests you and your partner do them once a year, in addition to a yearly check-up with your gyneac if you’re sexually active. And remember no matter how scary or awkward the sooner you know, the less serious it will become.
In the age of online hookups, it’s especially important to vet your partners. While most Tinder profiles don’t come with a medical history, it’s never a bad idea to ask your partner straight-up or ask when he was last tested. (We know, we know vibe-killer, but better that than a vag-killer, am I right?) A lot of people are carriers without their knowledge or might not necessarily want to tell you even if they do know; all the more reason why you shouldn’t agree to lovin’ without glovin’.
And finally, if you’re sexually active, there’s no excuse for not educating yourself about it, and there’s no need to be ashamed to either. If our population wasn’t indication enough, 232m people between the ages of 15-24 in India are in the process of discovering their sexuality. There are lots of sources that you can trust to give you that info, including your gynaec and other medical professionals. There’s also NGOs like Tarshi that work in sexual health advocacy or YouTube channels like mDhil that focus on sex FAQs and STI awareness.
TROUBLE DOWN SOUTH
According to Dr Parulkar, the most common signs of STIs include abnormal amounts of foul-smelling discharge, rashes or blisters, itchiness, irritation or redness, or pain during urination or intercourse. Additionally, yeast infections and UTIs, while not technically classified as ‘STDs/ STIs’ can be caused by sex as well as a result of your natural pH balance getting disrupted, or a a new partner whose flora you’re not used to. That said, you can’t rely on overt symptoms or Dr Google alone a lot of STDs resemble each other, while others like chlamydia and gonorrhoea are completely symptomless, which means you or your partner can be carriers for months or even years without realizing it. This is exactly why regular tests, or an uncomfortable trip to the doctor is essential. And while you’re at it, remember that it isn’t their job to judge, so be as honest as you need to. If you do have the misfortune of a judgemental aunty for a doctor, use this list of trusted, totally chill gynaecologists.
Last but not the least, don’t worry you’re not going to get chlamydia and die. At the very least, you might get chlamydia but at least you now know how to catch it and cure it. So don’t let this column discourage you from going forth and getting some just get it with a glove on, mmkay?