Have I got an STI?
Little pimples, discharge and the occasional itch are all perfectly normal downstairs, but if they dont go away it may be a sexually transmitted infection. Dont panic, were here to help.
STIs on the rise
So you've found something suspicious. Firstly, it's not the end of the world. In fact, it's a good thing you've spotted it. Secondly, it's more common than you think. According to the Health Protection Agency one in four young sexually active teenagers has an STI, so you're not alone. But before you refuse to have sex with anyone else ever again it's important to know why STIs are doing the rounds with young people.
Having unprotected sex undoubtedly carries the highest risk, especially if the person isn't aware they have an STI, but there are also less obvious ways of picking up an infection or two. Take kissing for example, generally there's nothing risky about snogging - unless your partner has a cold sore and is a carrier of the herpes virus. Sharing a towel's OK, right? Not if your partner has public lice. And while certain STIs have more obvious symptoms (syphilis, herpes, gonorrhoea, genital warts and public lice), others (chlamydia, trichomonas) have nothing at all, so sometimes you have to rely on a hunch. And when your hunch turns out to be true, it's time to do something about it.
No one knows your body better than you, so if you've discovered something nasty, or you've knowingly put yourself at risk, then get yourself checked out. The good news is that most STIs are treatable if caught early. But don't take a risk with your health. Ignoring the problem can not only lead to long-term health issues, but also puts any other sexual partners you have at risk too.
A trip to the clinic
You can get checked out by your own GP, or if you can't face them, by visiting a GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic - look online or call your nearest large hospital for details. Go. Now. Don't keep putting it off. Yes, you might find it embarrassing - no one relishes the idea of pants off and legs akimbo- but the staff are professionals and they've seen it all before. And besides, it's confidential (you don't even have to give your real name).
Once you know for sure it's not just a pimple, it's time to fess up.
If you're prescribed antibiotics, finish the full course of tablets, otherwise the infection can come back. If you take the GP route don't be tempted to make up an illness in the hope of getting a cure-all antibiotic - chances are you will be given the wrong type of medication, or a dose that is too weak.
Once you know for sure it's not just a pimple it's time to fess up. Admitting to having an STI isn't the ideal start a relationship, or perfect pillow talk with a steady partner, but they have to know. It doesn't necessarily mean anyone was unfaithful. One of you could have been carrying the infection for a long time without having any symptoms. There's no point in getting angry and blaming your girlfriend or boyfriend if they have infected you; safe sex is the responsibility of both partners.
Try to trace anyone that you might have passed the infection on to. Don't just assume that they will notice something is wrong and go to a clinic. Break the news to them as calmly as possible and tell them they need to go for tests.
In the meantime, avoid sex until you are given the all-clear by the doctor.
The best way of reducing the spread of STIs is by using a condom or dental dam every time you have sex. But if you want total peace of mind it's not unreasonable to ask a new partner to get tested before you venture downstairs. It doesn't have to be a big deal. In fact, the HPA recommends that sexually active under-25s should be tested for chlamydia every year or sooner if they change partner.
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