Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by:
- viruses (eg, HIV, herpes, hepatitis and warts)
- bacteria (including gonorrhoea, chlamydia, non-specific urethritis/NSU, syphilis)
- parasites (such as crabs and scabies).
It’s possible to get crabs and scabies without having sex, as they can be picked up from bedding, towels and clothes.
How do I protect myself from STIs?
Condoms are very good at stopping HIV and other STIs. However, some STIs are passed on through skin-to-skin contact, so it’s possible to get one even if you use condoms. But using them does make it less likely.
Fucking without condoms and sucking are the most common ways that STIs are passed on. But they can be spread by other types of sex (such as fisting, fingering, sharing sex toys and rimming).
If you’re HIV negative, taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) might be a good idea if you think you may have condomless sex. It’s a drug taken before sex that reduces the risk of getting HIV. PrEP doesn’t protect you from other STIs though.
Will I know if I have an STI, or if the man I’m having sex with has one?
Sometimes you may not notice any symptoms when you or someone else has an STI, or you can have an infection for quite a long time before the symptoms show. The symptoms can be inside someone’s body where they can’t be seen, such as when herpes, warts or a syphilis sore is inside someone’s arse.
Some men go to a clinic to be checked a couple of times a year. If you have sex with lots of men you might want to be checked more often. But if you feel there might be something wrong then a clinic visit is strongly recommended. If you have any symptoms, then tell the clinic – it should get you seen quicker.
What can I do if I get an STI?
The tests for STIs are quick and easy, and most STIs can be cured. Those that can’t be cured (like herpes and HIV) can often be controlled with drugs. Effective HIV treatment means you can’t pass it on.
There are two STIs – hepatitis A and B – that you can be vaccinated against. New cures for hepatitis C have almost 95% efficacy, and only involve taking pills for a few weeks.
What happens if I don’t get an STI treated?
STIs need to be treated. Even if the symptoms seem to get better, you’ll still have an infection. And until you’re given the all-clear, you could give it to others.
Infections that are left untreated can end up causing serious health problems or damage to your body, such as arthritis or epididymitis (an infection of the balls that can cause you to lose one of them). And if you have an STI, you’re more likely to pick up or pass on HIV if you have unprotected sex and aren’t on effective treatment. That’s because whether you’re HIV positive or negative, having STIs puts a strain on your immune system, making you more open to other infections or illnesses.
How common are STIs?
Infections are getting more common whether you are gay, bisexual or straight. Your chances of getting one can depend on:
- how many people you have sex with
- what type of sex you have
- whether you use condoms or not.
Men with more sexual partners are much more likely to report an infection and should get tested regularly.
Last review: 2/11/2018
Next review: 2/11/2021