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Don't Panic! STI Symptoms and How to React (Hint: It Will Be OK!)

There are a few great mysteries in life. Like, who decided there should be an ‘s’ in the word ‘lisp’? Or, why does my dog walk around in 100 circles before lying down? Or, why are there always almonds at the bottom of my purse? Seriously, I don't even remember buying almonds.

On a slightly more serious note, STIs. Are they a mystery as well? If your answer is yes, read on. The more you understand, the easier it is to make sure that you are treating your body with the respect, love, and caution it needs. 

So, here are some of the heavy hitters. The common cronies. The critters that came, and saw, but will not conquer your gorgeous soul (or vagina).

Chlamydia

It’s the common cold of STIs. AKA: your genitals have the sniffles. I’ve had it, you’ve had it, your great uncle Al for sure had it back in the day.

Chlamydia is one of those sneaky STIs where most people don’t actually show symptoms in the early stages, if at all, and women are even less likely to notice symptoms. They include:

  • Frequent, burning, or painful urination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rashes
  • Pain during sex
  • Spotting between periods or after sex
  • Discharge that may have an odor

Unique Symptoms

It’s easy to mistake chlamydia for a yeast infection. The discharge is similar, but more yellowish and pungent than regular ol’ yeast discharge.

What Now?

At any sign of a fever, or any pain around your abdomen, head in and just have a quick urine test or swab to make sure you’re alright. If you do have chlamydia, don’t worry too much. You’ll get some antibiotics and be good to go in about seven days.

Make sure to let any partners know that they should get tested too. (Daunting? Yes. Necessary? Also yes.) And use protection. If left untreated, chlamydia (like gonorrhea), can cause a higher chance of infertility.

Gonorrhea

If we were comparing STIs to Robin Williams movies, it’s the STI that comes closest to looking like flubber. Sorry, I hope you’re not reading this over lunch. Don’t worry, that is the first and last time flubber will be brought up.

Gonorrhea is also an incredibly common STI, especially for people between the ages of 15–24. Like chlamydia, it can be spread orally, vaginally or anally. And again like chlamydia, most people don’t notice any symptoms. However, if and when they do appear they may include:

  • More discharge than usual
  • Burning and difficulty peeing
  • Spotting between periods

Unique Symptoms

Ok, I know I promised, but just once more: flubber. Keep your eyes peeled for that greenish tinge in any discharge.

What Now?

If you notice any symptoms, or even if you just had unprotected sex with a new partner, it’s a good idea to pop in and get tested. If you test positive, you will get some antibiotics (your doctor may also give you some for chlamydia just in case) and off you’ll go to have better protected sex.

Herpes

One in six people have it. That means that if Maroon Five had an extra band member, then one person in that band could potentially have it, because there would be six of them. That’s how math and science work, right? (Okay maybe not, but it could be how libel works, so I take it all back.)

People get it through a virus that is spread through a herpes sore, or sores, during oral, vaginal, or anal sex. It can also be released through the skin by someone who doesn’t have a visible sore (true story). It’s like catching Pokemon, but not at all.

When there are visible symptoms of herpes (which, what joy, there aren’t always), they can include:

  • Blisters or itching around your genitals, anus, or mouth
  • Painful urination
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

Unique Symptoms

The most recognizable unique feature of herpes are blisters around the genitals or anus.

These blisters break open and cause painful sores, which in turn can cause painful urination. What fun. So if it's hurting to pee, it’s important to get tested so you don’t confuse painful urinating with another STI.

The thing with herpes symptoms is, they don’t necessarily appear right away. It could take weeks, or months, or even years. So, if you notice any symptoms (or are particularly anxious about a maybe/maybe-not ingrown hair) get tested. A visit to your doc will clear your head.  

What Now?

If you’ve been tested and found out that you have herpes, take a breath, maybe another, and don’t fret. Symptoms can be lessened and prevented with medication provided by your healthcare professional.

While your initial reaction may be “Oh my God, what will my life be now?!”, don’t let the anxiety take over. Your life will continue and you will grow and thrive. There are support groups out there (list here), and as long as we keep on de-stigmatizing STIs, things will only keep getting better.

HPV

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most common STI of them all? Why, it’s HPV! Usually, the body is able to clear this one up on its own. BUT, it can lead to certain types of cancer which may take years to develop. There are so many types of HPV that it’s impossible to give a list of symptoms, and anyway, most people don’t develop symptoms.

Unique Symptoms

The main symptom for certain strains of HPV are warts — but most of the time, your body can fight off the HPV even before those pop up. Good news: the types of HPV that cause genital warts do not cause cancer.

What Now?

The main thing to know in this day and age is that there are now vaccines for HPV (yay!) so you can stop it before it starts. HPV can also be detected in women via regular pap tests, so make sure you’re going in every three years. If you’re at risk for certain types of cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about the frequency.

And there you have it, some of the mysteries of (sex)life explained just a wee bit more. The key thing to remember from all of this: take control of your sexual health by using protection and visiting your doctor when you have a question or concern. And regular testing for STIs is a must. A lot of the time, they don't show any symptoms at all — but that doesn't mean they're not doing any harm.

If we can send people to the moon, we can deal with STIs. Stay strong, goddesses.

Image Credit: Trinity Kubassek

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