Getting rid of the STIgma

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By Kelly Skjerven

Maybe you’ve noticed it hurts to pee. Maybe you have a scary unusual discharge. But you think things are fine because your sexual partner hasn’t shown visible signs of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It must be a bladder infection, you tell yourself. But do you really for sure?

The worry for having an STI might be embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be. Dr. Kaitlin Dupuis of Planned Parenthood Toronto says the taboo around sex-related topics might be the reason for stigma around STIs. “I think it’s probably the mode of transmission that makes stigma opposed to getting like bronchitis,” she says.

The key to destigmatizing is informing. So The Eye has put together a list of the four most commonly reported STIs as well as key facts about them— and most importantly, the common myths associated with them, DEBUNKED.

Information courtesy Toronto Public Health, Sexual Health Ontario, Carolyn Egan – counsellor at the Birth Control and Sexual Health Centre and Dr. Kaitlin Dupuis at Planned Parenthood Toronto.

CHLAMYDIA

WHAT IT IS: Most common reported STI caused by the bacteria chlamydia trachomatis. The infection is carried in semen and vaginal fluids and can affect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eyes, and throat.

SYMPTOMS:

  • Discharge, pain while peeing, lower abdomen pain, bleeding during or after sex

HOW IT’S CONTRACTED:

  • Vaginal, anal, or oral sex if one of the partners is already infected

TREATMENTS/CURES:

  • Antibiotics such as doxycycline and amoxicillin, avoiding sexual contact for a week

COMMON MYTH DEBUNKED: You won’t always know if you have the infection so go get tested.

GONORRHEA

WHAT IT IS: Caused by the bacteria, neisseria gonorrhoeae, that can affect the anus, genitals and throat.

SYMPTOMS:

  • Burning feeling when peeing, discharge and itching
  • Women might not show symptoms, but if they do, it may also include spotting between periods or pain during sex.

HOW IT’S CONTRACTED:

  • Through unprotected sex including anal and oral intercourse if a partner has the infection. Symptoms may appear in two to 10 days

TREATMENTS/CURES:

  • Antibiotics in the form of pills or injections

COMMON MYTH DEBUNKED: You might not be able to see gonorrhoea so don’t assume you’re OK.

SYPHILIS

WHAT IT IS: An STI that can take the form of a sore or rash from the bacteria treponema pallidum, affecting the genital area, throat, mouth, lips, or anus.

HOW IT’S CONTRACTED:

  • Vaginal, anal or oral sex or bacteria from a syphilis sore can also enter the bloodstream of a partner through an open cut in the skin
  • Users who share needles are also at risk of contracting the infection

TREATMENTS/CURES:

  • Antibiotics but blood tests will still show up positive for syphilis

COMMON MYTH DEBUNKED:Syphilis is curable even though it will show up in future blood work and you are no longer at risk of passing it on to partners.

GENITAL HERPES

WHAT IT IS: Cold sores caused by the HSV-1 virus, and if individuals have unprotected oral sex they can also contract genital herpes from cold sores known as HSV-2.

HOW IT’S CONTRACTED:  

  • Herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact in addition to contact with oral and genital fluids
  • Symptoms include fever, swollen glands and pain when peeing

TREATMENTS/CURES:

  • Although there isn’t a cure for the virus, outbreaks can be treated with antiviral medication along with daily medications

COMMON MYTH DEBUNKED: You can get herpes even if your partner doesn’t have a visible outbreak.

More tips from Dr. Dupuis!

  • Some clinics in the city offer anonymous HIV testing, in which you only need to provide your first name and date of birth. The results are given to you right away, however if they come back positive you will need to de-anonymize yourself in order to receive treatment in Ontario
  • There is no general test for all STIs, this is why it’s best to speak to your healthcare provider about your sexual activity and other risky behaviours (such as using shared needles or pipes for recreational drug use) so they can determine what you should be tested for
  • If you’re having unprotected sex with multiple partners or sharing needles and pipes for recreational drug use you should be tested every 2-3 months



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