You’d know if you had a sexually transmitted infection (STI), right?
Not so fast, says Dr Kathleen McNamee, Medical Director of Family Planning Victoria. Most people who are diagnosed with STIs have no symptoms at all.
“People think they’d know if something was wrong. They don’t realise they might be susceptible, or they feel they’d have a symptom if they had a sexually transmitted infection, but the majority of times they don’t have any symptoms at all,” Dr McNamee says.
Take chlamydia, for example. It’s one of the most common STIs in Australia and the number of confirmed cases has increased five-fold since 1999, but 75% of women and half of men who have it don’t experience symptoms.
Yet the infection can be silently lurking in your body, and can lead to serious health issues like pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause long term pain, as well as infertility and problems during pregnancy—including miscarriage and stillbirth.
Are you at increased risk?
STIs are most common in people under 30, so if that’s you, the Australian STI Management Guidelines recommend getting screened each year. Risk generally goes down as you get older, so screening isn’t routinely recommended annually after 30, but there are some exceptions.
Men who have sex with men are also at much higher risk – more than 90% of syphilis and gonorrhoea cases in cities and regional areas and more than 80% of new HIV cases occur in men who have sex with men . People who have more than one sexual partner are also much more likely to get an STI, and the risk goes up the more partners you have.
Talk to your doctor or visit a sexual health or family planning clinic if you’ve had unprotected sex or someone you’ve been intimate with has told you they’ve had a STI — or if you have symptoms you’re worried about.
MORE: Do you know your STIs?