Being health conscious today means aiming to maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet and enjoy regular exercise. It also involves taking care of your sexual health by practicing safe sex at all times. This is because not to do so means running the risk of catching sexually transmitted infections and diseases, particularly if having sex with more than one partner.
While abstinence is acknowledged as the only completely foolproof way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, people in an intimate relationship can also take one or two important steps to protect themselves when having intercourse. Using condoms is the most effective preventative measure when it comes to risk avoidance. By blocking the exchange of bodily fluids they effectively reduce the risk of transmitting diseases to less than three percent, however they must be used properly to achieve this.
Having unsafe sex means being at risk of contracting HIV/Aids, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and of unwanted pregnancy, and those people who know how to protect themselves, and who do so, are able to reduce their risk considerably.
Types of sexually transmitted diseases
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the US, and its STD symptoms can include abdominal pain and pain during urination. There may be abnormal discharge through the penis or vagina, testicular pain in men and pain during intercourse in women. Permanent damage to sexual organs can result if chlamydia is not treated, and this is particularly the case in females. Antibiotic medications can eradicate the disease, once a diagnosis has been made.
Gonorrhea, another bacterial infection, also requires antibiotic treatments as it can have serious consequences for the heart, joints and reproductive system. Regular checkups are advisable as sometimes there are no apparent symptoms. Where symptoms occur they are similar to those of chlamydia but may also include painful bowel movements and anal itching, swelling of the testicles and an irregular menstrual cycle.
Syphilis was all but eradicated in the US but the bacterial infection is now prevalent again, and as it facilitates HIV it can be very dangerous. Symptoms may be mild at first and can include flu-like signs such as fever, fatigue and body aches coupled with a rash, swollen lymph nodes and small sores on or inside the mouth, genitals or rectum, which are painless. It's important to treat syphilis promptly as untreated it may damage the brain, as well as blood vessels, bones, eyes, heart, joints, liver and nerves.
The viral infection, genital herpes, is spread through sexual contact and the first symptoms may again be the flu-like signs that can also be caused by syphilis. In addition, there may be pain or itching in the buttocks, thighs or genitals, and blisters, sores or small red bumps in the anal or genital area. This is not a condition that can be cured although antiviral medication helps to suppress it and to minimize outbreaks.
Other common STDs include genital warts, hepatitis, HPV, trichomoniasis and HIV/Aids.
Correctly treating STDs
Regular checks are essential, particularly for young, sexually active people, as these relatively simple tests can sometimes detect problems in the absence of symptoms or when these are at an early stage. In particular, establishing the HIV status of both partners is vital, before embarking on a relationship. If seeing the family doctor does not suit or would be uncomfortable, look out for special STD screening tests available via clinics or health centers - often a confidential call to a professional nurse will help determine what kind of screening is most appropriate.
When medication is prescribed it's important to carefully follow the instructions and to complete the course exactly as directed by the healthcare team. Stay vigilant and use a condom on every occasion and the risk of re-infection will be greatly reduced.