Health Check

Signs you might have an STI

Sometimes we feel an itch, spot a lump, or notice a weird discharge. But how do you know if it could be an STI?

Written by Medibank
Portrait of a scared couple in bed with man and woman looking very anxious

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) aren’t generally considered polite dinner conversation, but with thousands of Aussies diagnosed each year, it’s important to know the facts.

STIs can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites and include chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes, hepatitis and HIV. All of these are passed from one person to another during vaginal, anal or oral sex, but they all have unique symptoms and treatments.

Read on to find more about STIs in Australia, and what to look out for if you think you might have one.

STIs may be on the increase

While sustained public health efforts have ensured HIV rates have remained steady in Australia for a number of years, other STIs are on the increase.

The Kirby Institute’s 2017 Annnual Surveillance Report on STIs found that the rate of STIs like chlamydia are on the increase.

Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs in Australia, and the rate of chlamydia notifications increased by 8% between 2015 and 2016. Three quarters of those notifications came from people aged between 15 and 29. And while they are less common, notification rates for gonorrhea and syphilis have also been increasing.

It’s thought the rise in chlamydia may be due to better testing and diagnosis, although many cases still go unreported. Gonnorhea and syphilys have been more frequently diagnosed in gay and bisexual men in the last five years, and its thought the increase may be due to a range of factors, including changes in screening and an increasing trend in unprotected sex.

Signs and symptoms of STIs

We all know that the best way to avoid sexually transmissible infections (STIs) is to practice safe sex. But the reality is that people slip up from time-to-time.

If you’ve had unprotected sex with someone new, it’s possible you may have contracted an STI. Symptoms vary depending on the disease, and from person-to-person and some people may not have any symptoms at all. When symptoms do appear, they usually develop in the genital area, and can include:

  • Unusual discharge coming from the vagina, penis or anus
  • Pain during sex or when going to the toilet, or in the scrotum or testicles
  • Change to the skin around your genitals, including sores, blisters, warts or rashes
  • Itchiness or irritiation in the genital area
  • Lumps or bumps on the genitals
  • General symptoms including persistent diarrhoea, fever or flu-like symptoms.

Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have an STI – they can be symptoms of other common conditions. But if you have had unprotected sex, it is important to see your doctor, or a sexual health clinical for a check-up.

MORE: Can sex give you a urinary tract infection?

Can you tell if you have an STI without getting tested?

The only way to know for sure if you have an STI is to see your doctor or book an appointment at a clinic for a sexual health check-up. In most cases a sexual health check-up is a matter of a simple urine test.

What happens if I do have an STI?

Most STIs, particularly the more common ones, are easily treated once diagnosed. In the case of viral infections like genital herpes, there are generally treatments to help control the symptoms. Once diagnosed, a health professional will be able to give you information on the best treatments.

Will I have to tell my sexual partners?

While it might seem daunting, most people appreciate being told they might have an STI. And it’s an important way to stop the spread of the disease. These days, you don’t even have to tell them yourself! can send them an anonymous email or text message on your behalf.

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Written by Medibank

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